Getting locked in a room for an hour and figuring out an escape is now a popular way for tourists to spend part of their day.
And, no, we’re not talking about a malfunctioning elevator or broken handle in a hotel bathroom.
Known as “escape games,” venues offering this activity opened in dozens of cities worldwide over the past few years, including many major U.S. cities, and are unique team building experiences that other tourist attractions likely can’t replicate.
Escape the Room NYC is now more popular on TripAdvisor than famed attractions such as Central Park, Top of the Rock and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ranking at number three for all New York City points of interest.
Originally a video game, escape games became a reality in Japan in 2008, then spread to China, Europe and the U.S. Kazuya Iwata, the designer of Real Escape Game, says the original Japanese location has more than 400,000 visitors each year.
His escape game was the first one in the U.S. when he opened the San Francisco location in 2012. He says he’s had over 30,000 visitors, and that the 2% success rate for groups is slightly higher now than when it first opened.
“As we always say, the uniqueness of the game is that you are actually physically inside the story,” said Iwata. “When you read books, you can imagine. When you play online, you can be drawn in, but you are not physically in the story. In this game you can enjoy it both physically and realistically.”
Tourists haven’t ‘escaped’ from the city’s long-standing attractions, but escape games are still getting attention from visitors as well as locals.
“San Francisco is a center of innovation,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of San Francisco Travel. “New ideas begin and thrive here so we think this is a natural for our visitors and our residents. That’s why we often use the theme, ‘It begins here.’”
Most people don’t make it out of these rooms before time is up, but that doesn’t seem to be discouraging people. Escape the Room NYC claims that only 20% of groups make it out of rooms before time is up, with 80% being “so close,” according to their website.
“I’ve never been, but I’ve had a couple groups of friends do this and loved it enough to do it a second and third time over the past year,” said Karen Lau, manager of marketing communications at San Francisco Travel. “I’ve heard that the puzzles can be really hard and it’s taken them 4 hours start to finish.”
The word is out that these games aren’t easy, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun, says Susanna Flores, San Francisco Travel’s northeast region senior manager of convention sales.
“Apparently the solve rate is actually low,” she said. “I can see this working for a more corporate group but also a fun thing to just do with a couple friends or a fun way to meet new people.”