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Arctic Norway. One of the most beautiful and extreme places you will ever see. Our newest article is about Arctic Escape, the northernmost escape room in the world. We had a great conversation with Marius Lind, who is one of the founders of this outstanding escape room.
It was a summer vacation in Spain back in 2014. A group of friends from Norway had just found out about the concept of escape games and were doing research during their trip around Valencia. The then already famous The X-Door was their escape room of choice. Given the level of excitement among the members of the group, they chose to play the hardest game. It proved to be a little to difficult at the time. The experience paved the way for a future project.
Instead of instant disappointment, they decided to take the world of escape games up north, to Tromsø. At the time, however, there were no escape rooms in Norway at all. From that summer until Christmas that year Marius was spending his time working nightshifts scanning ebay and coming up with ideas for puzzles, while the rest of the team worked on the project as well. Then a five-minute story came out about one of Norway’s first escape room opening in Bergen and enjoying great success, and that really lit their fire.
They started off with the help of Innovation Norway. No doubt, it was finally something new and exciting to offer to the tourists and locals and not just another aurora lights or whale safari entrepreneur. The process was long, both with finding a place, getting the forms in, and figuring out amongst themselves how big they wanted to go with this, since it had to be combined with their day jobs.
Last summer they started to renovate an old, really worn down nasty 100 m2 storage room in the city center. The following six months of their lives was all about their day jobs and Arctic Escape in the evenings, deep into the nights. In late November, the first room was opened and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
They had another tough stretch building the second room on a tight schedule, but after it was opened in March they have seen the amount of bookings increase each month. They say ‘never start a business with friends’. Luckily they got through it as their bonds goes beyond friendship.
escape-rooms.com: We would love to hear a bit about the name of the escape room. Was it originally designed as an arctic one or the circumstances made you open up north?
Marius Lind: The name is unfortunately a bit boring, we quickly decided it had to include 'escape' in it, and so wanted another word that would appeal to the huge amount of tourists swinging by our city, as we see them as a very valuable group of customers. We went to different places that offered activities to tourists here in Tromsø and they said Arctic was a must. With that being said I do have a dream of eventually having a room that is closer tied up to the name with an arctic mission going wrong and immersion with temperature, lights and sounds. But we need to find the right people to get involved for that to be cool and not just half way it.
We all live in Tromsø, and this was the only place we wanted to open up in, also because we really thought this city needed more fun activities both for the main stayers and for the tourists that come here for the scenery, but need something fun for those days where there is just bad weather.
escape-rooms.com: Does the weather - and the land - make it a more logical way of doing business? As its darker outside - people surely look for indoor activities.
Marius Lind: I think it does, I mean we only have a couple of months of ‘summer’ and a couple of months where everyone goes skiing during late winter, other then that most of us prefer indoors instead of being outside. The population here has really been good at spreading the word, as we have done very little marketing. But we are trying to find ways of getting a bigger share of the tourists to come visit us. The ones who have have all said it was a beautiful break from all the lovely nature. In some ways Tromsø is a very lively city, it is known for having most bars/cafes etc per person that lives here than most cities in the world, at the same time it does not have a rich offer of fun activities. So that is why we felt comfortable opening up in Tromsø even though many of our fellow owners thought a city of 70k population was too small.
escape-rooms.com: It is a city, as you said, of limited population. In terms of percentage, what portion of your customers are tourists?
Marius Lind: Up until the last month a very high percentage has been locals, I would take an educated guess on 92% or so. What is good in that regard is our fear of only getting guys in the 25-40 age group has been proven unnecessary. There is at least as many ladies as men, and our age range span from 8 to 70 right now, with more and more of the under 25 and over 40 people understanding that this is fun for them as well. The last month has seen an uptick in tourists, not coincidental with us finally moving up the tripadvisor list which has been a focus for us since April.
We are constantly trying some things to see if they have an effect though and after the summer we will be targeting the hotels harder to see if they are willing to recommend us and if that helps.
We are extremely grateful for the locals that have tried our room(s) and that they are spreading the love, and at the same time with a population of 70k that means more rebuilding of the rooms and puzzles then if all our customers were tourists that 'renew' themselves.
escape-rooms.com: So you have to take rebuilding and redesgning into consideration all the time in the future given the limited population?
Marius Lind: Oh yes, we started of with a very lofty timetable for ourselves, with a new room ready every three months (6 months lifeline for each room), but we have quickly gone away from that for two reasons; 1. the amount of time and creativity it takes to make a room we can proudly present and 2. we don’t have to do it as the clientele is wider then we first assumed. Also there is constantly small tinkering with the room we do have, so it keeps on getting better and more fluid. We only have space for those two rooms, so next time (probably towards the end of the year, depending on the flow of guests) we will have to say goodbye to one of the rooms and build another one. We have already come a long way of planning the puzzles, so the room will hopefully be all mapped out before we start the renovating.
Our main goal right now is to get more tourists, and more of the big companies to understand that it is a great team building activity, in addition to keeping the buzz that we are already enjoying from the locals, that way we will have an opportunity to keep the rooms running longer as well.
escape-rooms.com: What are the themes of your rooms? Are they connected to the landscape?
Marius Lind: Unfortunately not yet. I have an idea of an arctic exploration gone wrong theme where you are drifting on a slowly melting ice flake, but we would need to find the right connections with experts within audio and light effects to make that cool I think. Our hope is that we develop those contacts through customers following in love with the concept when they come to try our rooms. The two rooms are an office of a bad guy, and you have to go and find evidence against him, and the second room, your mission is to find out who were sitting in the back room of his bar playing poker as he has some high ranked officers, and judges in his pocket and the rotten apples were there, as to find out who you can trust the evidence to… We like the idea of creating a story that can both work independent but for those who want they can follow the story line for multiple rooms.
escape-rooms.com: In terms of marketing, word of mouth or digital marketing?
Marius Lind: Word of mouth is no doubt more important in a city like Tromsø I would say. We thought we would have to work harder to get that ball rolling, but as everyone simply loves the concept, the rooms and how they are treated it is spreading quite nicely on its own. We will be more active in our marketing trying to reach more of the tourists and bigger companies explaining to them what a wonderful team building activity this is. This is Katrine’s area of focus.
We have done very little in terms of digital marketing, a couple of FB paid posts, and a couple of news arcticles in the papers. Other then that just making sure we are easy to search online, trying to climb the TA lists, posting pictures on FB of our customers
The hardest part is to educate the people on what the concept is about. As you have a big group thinking it is a panic room, saw movie type of thing. And another big group thinking you have to be member of Mensa to be good at this. But we see a shift in that as well, just compared to 6 months ago most people now say 'yeah I heard about that' when we say what we do. Probably an effect of WoM here in Tromsø as well as it becoming more famous through its inclusion in Big Bang Theory and different talk shows.
escape-rooms.com: As Norway is a beautiful country with rocky mountains and forests, its natural that I think of an outdoor game. We've interviewed a Slovenian forest game. Do you see it as a possibility in Norway? Well, Tromso might be a bit cold for that…
Marius Lind: we have actually thought about doing something like that, as our location max out on two rooms, but maybe more in the 'amazing race' type of activity. With typical escape room puzzles and twists on the different stops.
It would also have to be concepts that take into consideration that for a couple of months the sun never comes, and a couple of months it never leaves. And that winter is here a long long time.
I would be interested in hearing about the forest game though, that sounds cool!
escape-rooms.com: What does the future hold for the escape room industry?
Marius Lind: Wow, that’s was one hell of a question. I’m a member of all the different Facebook groups for owners and enthusiasts etc, and this is a popular conversation there. I think it will be a less homogeneous consept as time goes by, e.g. your article on forrest escape. We went to London and tried five different rooms in three days, and you could see three clearly different concepts. One was highly technological, probably cost more than 60k euros just that one room. The other was the type we prefer, with just a lot of fun puzzles and not to much tech or WOW factors. And the third was a movie studio where you really had to pay attention to details and take the time to see some film clips that actually gave you important information. People stress that we have to keep raising the bar, more and more tech and WOW factors, and while I definitely like to have one or two of those in each room I am afraid that this thought will derail us as an industry from what we all came to love in the first place. Just an hour away from the screens and technology, gathered in a room with our friends/coworkers/family with one common goal in mind; get out of that room or solve that mission. I definitely prefer a room that puts an emphasis on fun puzzles, then the immersion/story and then the tech part (in that order). And what I hope will never happen is franchises taking over as it will decrease the diversity.