There is an opportunity for the region to participate in a rapidly growing trend which is an indoor, four-season attraction. “Escape Rooms” originated in Asia in the early 2010s, naturally evolving from exploration-themed video games. There is a following for escape rooms, known as “Escape Room Enthusiasts”.
The escape rooms can be easily integrated into existing tourism ecosystems. There are possibilities of themed tie-ins via the plots or mysteries involved; partnerships with museums or schools, and of course the local history.
“Escape Rooms” at their core are physical adventure games. In a restricted time frame, players solve a series of puzzles to move from challenge to challenge, often unraveling a mystery in the process. Crucial to the process is the balance between forging a linear narrative through the puzzles, while also evoking a sense of an “open world” where the participants can discover and unlock other secrets.
There are different possibilities for strategy, some of which include clues built into the room and limited-access hints from the “outside”.
The fictional settings of the rooms are the foundation of the businesses. There are a large variety of established models, from prison cells to spaceships to moments or scenes from history. The opportunity exists in this case to emphasize the historical aspects of the region while simultaneously creating a lower barrier to entry for the installation of the Escape Rooms on private land.
For instance, the setting of “western” or “old-time” saloon would provide a chance for participants to experience immersion in a unique cultural aspect of the region’s history. This increases the desirability to attend, as it elevates the attraction into a “can’t-miss” experience.
The resources required to create this atmosphere are readily available in the area. Reclaimed barn wood, straw, and other props can quickly evoke the time period. There is also potential to integrate live actors into the escape rooms, as fellow players around a poker table for example, which could take the experience in a different direction.
Upon arrival, participants are greeted by knowledgeable staff that adjusts the escape room experience to the ages, sizes, and preferences of the group. In larger venues, there may be a themed restaurant, cafeteria, or cafe attached. A picnic area would also be a good pairing, and would be a low-maintenance way to encourage group bonding before and after the experience.
After the rules and safety measures are explained, the experience begins. Often, this is through a video that starts the immersion process and establishes the narrative. This could also be achieved by live actors as well.
Clues are unlocked as well as hidden throughout the space. There are also options to get “hints” from the staff; sometimes these are unlimited, sometimes there are a certain amount available.
There are several possibilities for technology integration; for example, the hints could be provided by actors in-character or via pre-recorded videos. Both these options maintain the “fourth wall”; however walkie-talkies to the staff can be just as effective.
The staff is supervising the group at all times via camera and microphones. As the participants move through the puzzles, there can also be warnings of the timer running down or merely a visual representation of the time remaining in the room (which could be anything from a digital display to an hourglass filled with sand).
The plot and puzzles can be updated seasonally or on a more rapid schedule. This leads to repeat visits and can also be parlayed into becoming a competition of sorts. The competition can be extended via websites or social media to ensure a connection with the region after the visitors have returned to their homes.
A likely site for an escape room is on privately owned agricultural land. Many private land owners have structures on their property – such as barns or animal stables - that can be converted into an escape room with minimal effort. These existing farm structures would limit the escape room business to seasonal activity due to the lack of insulation or heating. Alternatively, these land owners could also construct a new building to house an escape room, making the business available year-round.
With a few design adjustments, these sites would provide a logical location for a Western-style escape room. Road access would need to be developed if it does not already exist. Electricity is also likely necessary for the more interactive aspects of escape rooms, through the use of videos, lighthing, and sound recordings.
Alternatively, an escape room can also be housed in an existing building in one of the town centres in the county. This may be in existing commercial, residential, or industrial space. These sites would likely already include road access, electricity access, and heating.
The following checklist should be used when determining site eligibility:
- Check zoning
- Ensure proper permits are in place
- Confirm business can operate on the designated land
- Check environmental regulations and species protection
- Determine legal and insurance requirements
As a rapidly growing trend, awareness of escape rooms has achieved enough market penetration to be easily recognizable to visitors. The demographic appeal is extensive; all ages are able to participate as the puzzle experiences may be tailored to different skill levels.
Domestic tourists from other regions of Canada and international tourists may may be particularly attracted to a Western-themed escape room as a cultural experience.
Escape rooms are also particularly ideal for groups. This can range from a basic family unit to classes or camps of children, partnerships with tour groups, bachelor and bachelorette parties, birthday parties, sports teams, professional groups and corporate retreats.
The team-building aspect has developed into a lucrative stream for escape rooms, as companies large and small find the group challenge empowers and enables leadership development as well as teamwork and diplomacy.
Income groups are reflected across the board as the experience has a universal appeal that crosses all income demographics.
The main expense for the escape room is determined to be the venue, on average costing $3k/month. Escape room decor will be a one-time cost of $15k, while insurance and operations will also be $15k. It is estimated that and average of three staff members will be needed each day at a rate of $15/hour for 8 hours.
The fee for an average escape room session is $21. For the purposes of this financial analysis, it is assumed that an average of 30 individuals will play each day for 365 days/year.