SALEM — Officials are recasting their tourism marketing strategy for the region amid the pandemic, instead urging North Shore residents to explore close to home. 

This year was expected to be a record-setting one for tourism and specifically for Haunted Happenings, Salem's monthlong Halloween celebration. There are five weekends and two full moons in October 2020 — one of which falls on Halloween night. 

But limits on international travel and social distancing recommendations due to COVID-19 likely mean fewer visitors.

"We were gearing up for record numbers, and we had been planning the logistics around that since November," said Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem. "We've been able to scale our approach back but, really, focus on the benefits of having a fall and summer in Salem that's perfect for the locals."

Details have yet to emerge on how COVID-19 will impact Haunted Happenings. Typically, there are a number of events throughout the city during October, kicking off with a sprawling parade downtown at the start of the month. 

The summer is also a busy time for Salem, as visitors come to the city's various historical sites and museums, along with its shops and restaurants. 

Now, the hope is that people who live on the North Shore come instead. 

"We've recalibrated our communications, marketing and promotion of Salem to focus on a hyper-local audience," Fox said. "We're doing direct mail pieces, advertising that's targeting and inviting people who live within 25 miles of downtown Salem to come and explore Salem."

As the state continues with its phased reopening, many businesses are keeping portions of their operations shut down amid COVID-19. That includes the House of the Seven Gables, which is not offering indoor tours for the foreseeable future, according to director Kara McLaughlin.

"Rooms in certain houses are so small that getting more than a few people in there with social distancing measures in place is pretty much impossible," McLaughlin said. 

Instead, the museum is offering outdoor tours at a discounted rate of $7, versus the $18 guided tour typically offered by staff, according to McLaughlin. That includes downloadable audio tours of the organization's gardens and a virtual tour inside the House proper.

Walking tours are also stepping off, giving locals an opportunity to hear Salem history from experts.

"Traditionally, locals don't do the things in their town," said Tim Maguire, owner of Salem Night Tours. "They're the ones most impressed by what they find, because they pass it every day."

Giovanni Alabiso, owner of Salem Historical Tours, has a similar perspective.

"As a youngster, I'd walk over to lots of places in Boston and never know the significance, and it wasn't until I was older when I realized what I was walking over," Alabiso said. "It's mind-boggling, the history that's here, and the history in Boston and other places on the East Coast and here in New England."

Like any other year, Destination Salem is keeping its website flush with events and listings for things to do on the North Shore. 

"Every listing has a health and wellness listing so people know what to expect to do and what they'll find," Fox said. "Everything's changing. Now that we're in phase three, it's going to change less rapidly, but it felt like everyday there was something new."

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or Follow him on Facebook at or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.


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