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Interview with Kelly Rapone, of Haunted History Trail

Kelly Rapone has been with the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism program since 1998 and is responsible for the overall tourism marketing program on behalf of Genesee County, NY. Kelly enjoys organizing state-wide tourism initiatives such as the newly launched Haunted History Trail of New York State which now includes 10 vacation regions and 27 participating counties. She serves as Regional Director for the Greater Niagara Region and project director for the Country Byways Region. The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce has been recognized on the state level with Tourism in Excellence awards for its innovative tourism programming.

Please tell our readers a little about yourself. Were you interested in folklore and ghost stories before you became involved in this project?

I get asked that question quite a bit. I would definitely say that I am an armchair enthusiast of hauntings. Whenever I am able to find a little time to watch what I like on TV, I go right to On Demand cable channels that air my favorite haunted shows. I especially like the documentary-style recounting of hauntings vs, the ghost hunters types of shows. Paranormal Witness, for example, is one of my favorite shows.

Kelly Rapone, of Haunted History Trail

Kelly Rapone, of Haunted History Trail

What inspired the New York Haunted History Trail, and how did you get so many other tourist agencies involved? How long did it take this idea to come to fruition?

The Haunted History Trail was created out of a sense of need by my organization. We needed a platform to be able to market just one type of attraction – a haunted location (Rolling Hills Asylum). Genesee County is primarily a family destination, given that our largest attraction is a very popular amusement park. We found it difficult to include this haunted attraction in our broad based marketing as it did not quite fit the target audience of “mom or dad plus little kids”.

I’ve had some prior success in rounding up state-wide partners to buy in to programming that I wanted to do, but could not do on my own, so that was the approach that I took in trying to solve my marketing problem.

The idea occurred to me in June of 2013 that there were likely other “one-off” haunted attractions in other counties across the state, and if we were to connect them then a bigger opportunity could be created than anything that we could each do on our own. I sent an email out to all of the state-wide tourism promotion agencies to see if any had anything that would work under this theme, and if they would be interested in being a partner in the program. I established a brief set of qualifications, types of locations and offerings that I would like to include (Ghostly Events, Creepy, Guided Tours, Ghost Hunts, etc.). By early August I had 12 tourism agency partners who wanted to be a part of this new program. From there I asked for a nominal financial contribution from each tourism agency to assist with building the web site, audio tours and a rack card.

The partnership also includes that each tourism agency will take an active role promoting the trail when and wherever it makes sense within each of their overall marketing initiatives. By late September the trail web site was live, rack cards printed and social media pages went live. So – it actually took just 2 ½ months from idea to launch. By Spring of 2014 we had 20 counties on board and for 2015 we are up to 27 counties across NYS. I think others came on board once they were able to actually see what the program looked like and how it works. The 12 partners that came on as initial partners really just bought in to an idea that I had, that with their help could be brought to fruition. The Tourism Promotion Agencies (TPAs) across New York State are accustomed to participating in regional and multi-county programming so this was not an unfamiliar approach to destination marketing for us.

What has the overall response been to the project? Have you ever encountered any opposition from civic or religious organizations?

We have not encountered any opposition to our program, but it has been very interesting to see the various reactions. The tourism people “get it”; it’s all about attracting a new visitor base by creating a new type of visitor experience out of existing tourism product. The locations that are on the trail, specifically the smaller museums and historical societies rave about this program and have said that the trail is providing them a way to increase their revenues all while giving them a platform to share their history with a visitor who likely would have not come through their doors otherwise. We also have those who shrug it off as “not a real” tourism trail, and those who think it is just for Halloween season, but the overwhelming response to the trail has come from ghost enthusiasts who want to explore the trail and plan their travel around these experiences. I can share a quick snap shot of some stats that I recently compiled for my partners:

Web site traffic: 18-month in review (through April 2015):

  • 86,616 Unique Users
  • 326,974 page views
  • Jan-April 2014: 8,398 unique users and 39,097 page views
  • Jan-April 2015: 34,253 unique users and 76,228 page views
  • Unique users up 308%; page views up 95% year over year.
  • Inquiries/Requests for Brochures: Trail brochure & state-wide visitor guides
  • 18-months: 23,987 brochure requests
  • Jan-April 2014: 2,426
  • Jan-April 2015: 6,524 brochure requests
  • 169% increase in brochure requests (4-month) year over year

Facebook

Likes: We gain 1,000+ new page likes every 4-6 months since inception.

  • Oct-Dec 2013: 1029
  • Jan 14-June14: 2021
  • July14-Dec 14: 3378
  • Jan 15-Apr 15: 4,448

Since January 2015: Reach: 291,000 since January; Clicks: 14,623; Comments, Likes, Shares 5,961

Why do you think visiting allegedly haunted places has become so popular in New York State?

I’m sure that people everywhere have this interest and there have been paranormal tourism initiatives going on for years, all across the world. I believe New York State to be unique in that we have found no other example of a state-wide paranormal tourism initiative.

How has the Haunted History Trail benefited New York State? What is its estimated economic impact?

New York State has benefited from the trail program in so many ways. Foremost in that we are providing the go-to resource for all those who seek haunted travel experiences in our state. For this alone we are receiving an overwhelming positive public relations and expressions of appreciation from those who can’t wait to explore our trail. The communities that are a part of the trail are receiving additional exposure and lure to a new visitor base. The non for profit and for profit businesses along the trail are seeing an uptick in visitation, new customers and revenue streams as a result. The haunted trail events that are promoted are realizing sold out ticketing and having to add additional nights to planned ghost tours.

Our program is just 19 months old, so a formal estimated economic impact analysis has yet to be done. We anticipate that a formal study will occur after the 2015 season.

How can our readers learn more about the Trail, visit the sites, and ask any additional questions they may have?

We’ve organized our ghostly offerings in two ways on our web site – Explore By Region or Explore By Experience. Due to the vastness of the opportunities, we encourage those interested to choose an area of New York State that they would like to visit. Most travelers won’t recognize a county name but our greater regions (Finger Lakes, Greater Niagara, Adirondacks, Hudson Valley) for instance will help people pinpoint a place to start. From there, you can see what is all around you. Or for those who want to find something specific –for example someone who might like to stay in all of the haunted inns and hotels – we would encourage you to Explore by Experience- search for the types of things you want to do, vs. where you want to go. The majority of the locations on the web site also have cool audio tours you can click on from the site too. Request our 2015 trail brochure through our web site and you can contact us there as well. www.hauntedhistorytrail.com Definitely like our Facebook page – we’re on it every day sharing interesting places and events.

Sorry guys, this page is copyright MysteriousHeartland.com, 2015. You do not have permission to copy this for any reason. Please learn how to cite your work. Unless otherwise noted, all photos are courtesy of Kelly Rapone.

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