It used to be that hotel managers and owners eschewed rumours of ghosts and hauntings in their properties. You worked hard to maintain a good business, and the last thing you needed was someone avoiding your place due to a fear of things that go bump in the night.
This is no longer true, at least in some cases. There are many hotels operating today who openly court their haunted backstories, even using them directly in marketing and promotional packages.
Let’s start with the most famous example: The Stanley Hotel in the U.S. state of Colorado. Stephen King and his wife were guests there in 1974—in fact, they happened to be the only guests that night. Out of that experience came a new novel, The Shining, which would later be adapted to the screen by Stanley Kubrick.
Before any of this happened, the Stanley hotel had a peaceful, ordinary reputation. Once The Shining hit it big, people began to flock there. Nobody, including the hotel itself, seemed to care that the genesis of this paranormal reputation was nothing more than the imagination of a well-known horror author. But in the years following the film’s release, reports of haunted encounters were rife.
Today the hotel offers a nightly ghost tour, which “takes you through our most haunted spaces and introduces you to the paranormal phenomena surrounding our 100+ year old hotel.” If that’s not enough, you can book the hotel’s Ghost Adventure Package, which includes a room on the hotel’s most haunted floor (the 4th), a device for detecting electromagnetic fields, and various ghost-themed novelty items.
The Langham hotel London is another example, but in this case, the hauntings are supposedly tied to tragic events deep in its 150+ year history. The property’s haunted reputation got a full head of steam in 2014, when several English cricketers reported eerie happenings and difficulty sleeping.
Keep in mind, this is a five star property with a distinguished reputation, having hosted such luminaries as Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain. They aren’t offering ghost packages like the Stanley, but they aren’t exactly “distancing” themselves from the hauntings either. In 2011, a press release appeared (since removed) that acknowledges the hotel’s ghostly reputation, even describing the experience of a spooked BBC radio announcer in 1973. Another guest who experienced a strange scratching at the door later wrote the hotel to complain. According to the guest’s TripAdvisor review, the hotel responded with information about various ghosts said to roam the premises.
In my own experience, when overseeing a hotel built in the 1800s for single male travelers, I had regular reports of guests seeing and “feeling” strange things in some specific rooms with one design contractor famously running screaming from a room and vowing never to return. The Russell Hotel in Sydney takes a different approach. Lacking any substantial hauntings of their own, the property offers a tour that takes guests through the surrounding Rocks area, whose dark and fascinating past has apparently resulted in a ghost-riddled present.
Ok, but is there a point to any of this, besides the fact that hotel managers and owners do what they can to capture bookings?
Believe it or not, haunted hotels remind us of an important truth about our industry today. People aren’t just driven by amenities and furnishings anymore, or even location. They want life experiences. They want something that starts a conversation, something they can share on social media and look back on with fondness and fascination. If that means staying on a hotel with a spooky reputation, plenty of people are all for it.
But let’s get real. A little intrigue may be good for certain hotels, but hauntings are a fickle business. They’re always shrouded in mystery, and evidence is never more than anecdotal. A coincidence or two might take on a life of its own, stories may be completely invented, or a hotel may genuinely have inexplicable happenings. If rumours begin to spread, there may be ways to make the most of them; but at the end of the day, the only beings you want haunting your hotel are living, paying guests who keep coming back. And if we can find ways to make hotels less of an afterthought and more of an experience, we’ll almost certainly see more of that.
None of the ghost stories are true anyway, right?
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