As I sit in the airport terminal in New Orleans waiting for a plane to take me back to Charlotte, my mind is racing to process the events of the past few days. I had the pleasure of attending HAuNTcon, the Haunted Attraction National Tradeshow & Convention in Baton Rouge.
Wicked Wendy and I were down in Louisiana on a media pass from organizer Leonard Pickel and hoping to get several interviews from vendors and attendees for the Big Scary Show podcast. Before that however, I wanted to enjoy myself in Baton Rouge and New Orleans the week before Mardi Gras.
I landed in New Orleans, got my car and immediately headed down to the French Quarter to see all the sights. They were already gearing up for Mardi Gras but the crowds were sparse. One of the nice things about HAuNTcon is that they always seem to travel to towns where there are a lot of things to do.
Even Though New Orleans is about an hour from Baton Rouge, it was well worth the time and effort to get down to the Big Easy and enjoy the sights. After a bit of playing the role of tourist, I headed up I-10 to the show.
HAuNTcon 2015 was at the Belle of Baton Rouge hotel and casino and overall it was a pretty nice setup. I didn’t really spend any time in the casino, although I know a few haunters that did. When I got to the hotel, I began to see familiar looking people wearing black t-shirts and I knew that the 2015 convention season had begun.
Friday night I spent hanging out at the two haunts a block from the hotel, 13th Gate and Necropolis 13. Everyone loved them, although the lines were a bit long. I guess that’s a horrible problem to have when too many people are trying to go through the haunt and you have to wait outside. The Crewe of Orion also treated people in the area to a pre-Mardi Gras parade that ran right past the haunts and the hotel. I spent the rest of the night at the bar and Leonard’s famous hospitality suite.
Saturday dawned and the sold-out tradeshow floor opened up to a few people although it looked like the majority of attendees were in classes which in my opinion started way too early in the morning.
About 10:00am the vendor floor got really crowded and the crowds seemed to remain throughout the day. While I don’t know numbers, I do know the crowds were lively and some vendors seemed to be making some decent sales.
The educational seminars and on floor demos were packed and a few were sold out or very close to selling out. I did a nice interview with Robert Kurtzman for the Big Scary News and talked to a bunch of vendors for the regular show.
Haunters Digest had asked me to ask Leonard a few specific questions if I got him alone for a few minutes. Even though I had to leave on Sunday morning and the show was continuing through Tuesday, I managed to sit down with Leonard in the hotel’s bar after the trade show floor closed on Saturday.
During the course of our conversation, I had mentioned that I had enjoyed the show and whether the experiment he had by moving the show to January and pairing up with the Halloween and Party Expo in 2014 in Houston was a success. His response was rather frank and honest, especially concerning the Retail Show. Needless to say, I don’t think HAuNTcon will be pairing up with them anytime soon.
We discussed a few topics, including HAuNTcon trying to compete with other conventions, its role in the ever changing haunt industry and how HAuNTcon is sowing the seeds for the next generation of vendors, speakers and professional haunters.
With NHC and CHAC announcing that they will not hold conventions this year, I asked Leonard whether that hurts or helps the industry. I have heard from several big names in this industry who think that there should only be a couple of conventions in the country and those ‘other cons’ are irrelevant. I was not expecting his response and his reasons why. Im sure many people will disagree with his opinion, especially vendors, but only time will tell.
I asked Leonard what HAuNTcon’s legacy will be in the industry and how he will be regarded in 5-10 years. He also mentioned that he does need to find new and exciting classes and seminars for those who have been coming here.
I asked his opinion on the next ‘big thing’ in the industry, especially with the advent of these ‘escape rooms’. He mentioned that in his 35-years in this business he’s seen nearly everything coming and going. These new ‘interactive’ haunts are nothing new and that this is just a ramped up version of things that haunts were doing decades ago. We also touched on what haunters may need to do to stay scary and wrapped up our chat.
Saturday night there were more parades and general pre-Mardi Gras celebrating and more hanging out in the hospitality suite. Sunday morning I got up way too early and drove back to New Orleans to catch my plane. My overall impressions were very positive and it appears that HAuNTcon will continue to be a major player in the haunt convention scene for years to come. look forward to coming back to HAuNTcon 2016 in Birmingham Alabama.
Visit www.hauntcon.com for more details.