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Covid’s impact on pumpkin time out-of-home public activities

Halloween is American’s 3rd most popular holiday after Christmas and Thanksgiving according to the Harris Poll. Halloween has grown to be a lot more than trick-or-treat. A whole industry of out-of-home activities and attractions have developed around Fall and Halloween. One has become a significant industry – agritainment/agritourism fall attractions.  These include farm-based fall festivals with such activities as corn mazes, pumpkin patches, petting zoos, hay wagon rides, jumping pillows and many others; u-pick apples and outdoor farm haunts.

Our company estimates that there are currently around 1,000 farm festivals that include corn mazes. That’s a dramatic growth from 1993 when American’s first corn maze in Annville, Pennsylvania was able to charge people $5 to get lost in it and launched the corn maze industry. 

Our company was fortunate to start working with farm clients when the agritainment industry was first taking off when we were approached by the 7th generation Davis family dairy farm in Massachusetts about developing an agritourism destination. Our feasibility study was positive. We went on to work with them on the design of Davis Farmland, a children’s discovery farm. It started small. Every year since, we’ve worked with the Davises to grow their business to what has become a major destination for families with young children in the western Boston area. In 1998 Davis Mega Maze was born across the street from Davis Farmland. Several years ago, we helped them transform it into the Davis Mega Farm Festival, a beer, wine, food and music festival. These two agritainment businesses now support the Davis’ farm. We recently designed a BBQ restaurant addition that is currently under construction to give them a year-round business. 

We have been very active in the agritainment/agritourism segment of the location-based entertainment (LBE) industry over the past 26 years. In fact, during the pandemic, we’ve been working with six different agritainment/agritourism clients. 

Agritainment has high appeal, not just due to the popularity of Halloween, but also because attending a fall farm-based festival has become a tradition with many families. It works for both adults and children, and there is the nostalgic and authentic appeal of being at a real farm in the outdoors.

Our company’s national surveys have found that one or more members from 1 in 3 households annually attend some sort of agritainment activity between the end of July and early November. 

Today, some farm fall festivals have attendances in the 100’s of thousands and revenues in the high single-digit millions of dollars over just six weeks from the end of September through the end of October. That’s higher attendance and revenues than most location-based entertainment venues achieve in a full year, including for most family entertainment centers (FECs). 

What impact will the coronavirus pandemic have this fall on the agritainment/agritourism industry? A recent survey by Civic Science indicates farmers will fare much better than other segments of the LBE industry. Over 6 in 10 people (63%) say they are comfortable going to a u-pick pumpkin patch or an apple orchard, and over half (51%) are comfortable attending an outdoor fall festival. However, the comfort level with indoor Halloween events and haunted houses is very low.

Comfort with an outdoor fall festival is highest with age 18-24 (67%) and decreases with age. For the primary age range for parents with children (age 25-44), a key target market, a little over 6 in 10 are comfortable.

Here’s how the comfort with outdoor agritainment u-pick and festivals compares with some other public activities. People are far more comfortable going to an outdoor fall festival than going to a restaurant or shopping at a mall.  

It’s not surprising that people have the highest comfort levels with outdoor agritainment activities. It hits the sweet spots for being as safe at a public activity as possible during the pandemic:

  1. It’s outdoors
  2. It allows generous social distancing as it isn’t crowded since people are spread out over many acres.
  3. You spend very little time in the immediate proximity of people who are not part of your family or social bubble.

Lots of people are going stir-crazy and craving some sort of ‘safe’ out-of-home entertainment they can visit. If the agritainment activities also make mask-wearing mandatory, they should attract good attendance this year despite the pandemic compared to other out-of-home entertainment activities. The early reports we’re getting from our agritainment clients are very positive. 

About Randy White

Randy White is CEO and co-founder of the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. The 31-year-old company, with offices in Kansas City, Missouri, has worked for over 600 clients in 37 countries throughout the world. Projects the company has designed and produced have won seventeen 1st place awards. Randy is considered to be one of the world's foremost authorities on feasibility, brand development, design and production of leisure experience destinations including entertainment, eatertainment, edutainment, agritainment/agritourism, play and leisure facilities.

Randy was featured on the Food Network's Unwrapped television show as an eatertainment expert, quoted as an entertainment/edutainment center expert in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and Time magazine and received recognition for family-friendly designs by Pizza Today magazine. One of the company's projects was featured as an example of an edutainment project in the book The Experience Economy. Numerous national newspapers have interviewed him as an expert on shopping center and mall entertainment and retail-tainment.

Randy is a graduate of New York University. Prior to repositioning the company in 1989 to work exclusively in the leisure and learning industry, White Hutchinson was active in the retail/commercial real estate industry as a real estate consultancy specializing in workouts/turnarounds of commercial projects. In the late 1960s to early 1980s, Randy managed a diversified real estate development company that developed, owned and managed over 2.0 million square feet of shopping centers and mixed-use projects and 2,000 acres of residential subdivisions. Randy has held the designations of CSM (Certified Shopping Center Manager) and Certified Retail Property Executive (CRX) from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

He has authored over 150 articles that have been published in over 40 leading entertainment/leisure and early childhood education industry magazines and journals and has been a featured speaker and keynoter at over 40 different conventions and trade groups.

Randy is the editor of his company's Leisure eNewsletter, has a blog and posts on Twitter and Linkedin.

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