The Haunted Passport Program, which the mayor plans to launch in time for this fall's tourist season, is aimed at handing out discounts, raising revenue and enticing visitors to the Witch City year-round.
For $13, anyone can buy the passport, which offers discounts at local shops, restaurants, tours and attractions. More than 25 businesses have already signed up to participate, and Mayor Kim Driscoll said she anticipates that number to double.
Half the money would go to the city, while the other half would go to King Fish Media, the Salem-based marketing company that designed the program.
Passport benefits would be good from Oct. 1 to April 30, 2008, which city officials hope will entice tourists to come back to Salem after Halloween. That extension appealed to many business owners, who were initially reluctant to sign on because their establishments are already booming in October but lacking the rest of the year, the mayor said.
"The real ingenious of the program is that it's flexible to what the businesses' needs are," Driscoll said.
Businesses would also receive exposure through the program's Web site, a national online advertising campaign and print and radio advertisements. Passports would be available at the visitors center and online.
Driscoll said she didn't know how much money the program would generate for the city in the first year, but they plan to order some 15,000 passports.
The Peabody Essex Museum has offered a two-for-one deal with the passport. Other businesses have offered $5 off a psychic reading, a free Halloween pin or a free appetizer.
The city also hopes to find businesses to sponsor individual Haunted Happening events, another potential revenue source.
Driscoll spent much of the day promoting the program, first to a small group of business owners yesterday afternoon, then to the City Council last night.
Salem Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rinus Oosthoek said the program could be valuable to local businesses. If visitors signing up for the passport agree to receive promotions and announcements for special events throughout the year, local businesses could find a new way to get their message out.
"Is this going to fly? Sure," Oosthoek said. "But it's up to us to make sure the benefits come out."
"If people feel they're getting a good value out of this, then it'll be huge," said Christian Day, who runs an annual vampires ball in October.
City councilors generally seemed to embrace the idea last night.
"I like the $13 price," Council President Matthew Veno said. "Unlucky 13."
"Great concept," Councilor-at-large Joan Lovely said. "I hope to see it evolve over the next few years."
Ward 1 Councilor Lucy Corchado urged planners to develop a discount for Salem residents.
After last Halloween, Driscoll and others met to discuss ways to better manage the event, which draws as many as 100,000 people to downtown Salem. Safety concerns have arisen in recent years after stabbings, rowdy crowds and the threat of gang activity as the night winds down.
"After 8:30, you can flip a switch and the crowd really changes," Driscoll said. "There are different groups, and it can get really hairy at times.
"This allows us to market to people with disposable income, not just college kids looking for a good time," Driscoll said.
It's also a step toward finding a way for the city to make a profit on Halloween night.
Because of overtime and security costs and the fact that many visitors generally don't spend much money on Halloween, the city actually loses money that night. Still, it does make money over the course of the monthlong Haunted Happenings celebration through parking garage revenue and other sources.
"The goal is better management and increasing public safety," Driscoll said. "And if we get more revenue, that's even better."
"A lot of people come to Salem for Halloween," Oosthoek said. "Let's see if they come here for other events."
Staff writer Chris Cassidy can be reached at 978-338-2526 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.