For the past five years, Halloween enthusiasts around the world have been calling hotels in Salem, Massachusetts to book their stay for 2020. An ultra-rare blue moon will be present during the holiday,  creating an especially spine-chilling atmosphere for visitors to the spooky coastal north-east town, site of the infamous witch trials of 1692 and one of the US’s epicentres of Halloween celebration. Its red-brick streets and notorious woods are transformed each autumn into a month-long immersive Halloween experience, including parades, cruises, haunted houses and endless speciality shops for all to enjoy.

But despite the high hopes of the half-million guests who planned ahead, Halloween in Salem this year won’t look as anticipated. The ongoing threat of Covid-19 has forced the cancellation of all large-scale events, and traditional trick-or-treating has been deemed too unsafe for children and families. The creepy street performers and costume balls that would usually envelop the town will be replaced by something quieter, less crowded and more in line with pandemic protocols.

Seasonal tourism typically represents about 30% of Salem’s $140m in annual visitation, and 20% to 50% of local businesses’ revenue. But as national estimates predict tourism to be cut in half this season, it will likely be several years before the city fully recovers, says Kate Fox, executive director of marketing organisation Destination Salem.

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