Ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged-beasties are all in a day’s work for Haunted Horizons tour operator Alison Oborn.
Oborn has always had an interest in the occult. Her grandmother was a trained medium and her mother was a healer in the spiritualist church, so you could say, she was born into it. In fact, Oborn tells Kochie’s Business Builders she grew up in a haunted house and was regularly visited by spirits as a kid.
“It was the reason why I went into paranormal research,” she explains. “I was born into a haunted house in Newcastle Upon Tyne, which terrified me. I wanted to find out what it was but, not at the expense of lying to myself.”
Oborn recalls being in her bedroom at the age of three or four and hearing raspy male breathing when nobody was there.
“That house terrified all of us kids. My sister would see disembodied eyes in the corner of the room. All I know is I had trouble walking past that house still when we moved, I was that scared of it,” she says.
Whilst Oborn maintained a healthy scepticism that her experiences may have been the result of an overactive imagination, nonetheless they did lead her in search of answers. She began to study the paranormal. And in 2002 she turned her interest in all things ghostly into a business, setting up a Paranormal Investigations’ team and approaching the Adelaide Gaol to conduct a series of ghost tours.
“We became the official paranormal investigation team at the Adelaide Gaol,” she tells KBB. “They were struggling for tours so we helped develop their Ghost Tour from the research side, and guided the tour as volunteers.”
Oborn says the tours were a huge success.
“People kept asking me if we did tours anywhere else and the seed was sown,” she says of the inception of Haunted Horizons.
“I have a passion for history and heritage. I love the mystery of the paranormal and even better… I love sharing it with others. It was a brave but natural step for me to enter the tourism industry.”
Oborn says she never envisioned Haunted Horizons would resonate with so many people. This month the tour company won Best Tour and Tour Operator in the SA Tourism Awards, for the third consecutive year, earning itself a slot in the Hall of Fame.
She attributes her success to a little bit of serendipity and a lot of hard work.
“I quickly realised there was a niche to be filled as nobody else at the time was doing anything like this in South Australia. The time was right to jump at the opportunity. We all want to follow our dreams and work on something we love… However, I was once told to never follow a dream or hobby, as it rarely led to a business that would succeed. It made me more determined to follow that dream and prove them wrong.
Unlike many ghost tours which often rely on gimmicks to provide the scares, Oborn says Haunted Horizons is the real deal. She says she prefers to focus on a venue’s history and personal stories to provide the details of her ‘dark tours’.
“I also wanted to be sure that if guests experienced anything it would be a genuine experience. I felt many people were also ready not to have their intelligence insulted and that like me were moving away from the ‘jump and scare’ type tours. So, I set up a tour that I would want to go on.”
While she says not all Haunted Horizon tours result in a shot sighting, she says strange and inexplicable things do happen from time to time.
“We chose to throw out the old formula of traditional ghost tours – the theatrics, the gimmicks and dress-ups. Instead, we chose to proudly ‘keep it real’. This means that if anything does happen on a tour, our guests can be confident it isn’t us. However, if they get no experience that night… then welcome to the paranormal, it doesn’t happen every day but we are not going to put it on so that people think they have had an experience. It was a gamble… but it paid off.
“With our ghost tours, you will explore with us our amazing venues, as we share the history and personal experiences of guides, and past guests with you. At the end of the tour, and if you are brave enough, you can try our ‘lockdown’… 5 mins in a very dark area (normally a cell), on your own.”
The more adventurous can take it one step further.
“For those who want to indulge in the mystery, just that little bit more. Paranormal Investigations are available at these venues, where guests can use all the ghost hunting equipment they see in shows and try it out for themselves. We have invested over $20,000 in this. On these tours, the hunt is on…”
if this all sounds a little too spooky for your liking Oborn says Haunter Horizons also offers ‘Dark Side Tours’ where guests can learn about the history of a location in an engaging way, through historical characters and quirky trivia.
Stil, ghost tours are her bread and butter.
“Ghost stories have an age-old fascination. Maybe, like children, we still want to be in awe of the wonders around us, and are uncomfortable to think everything is explainable and ordered.
“We have been telling stories about campfires for generations… a ghost tour is just an extension of this. Or maybe, it is that at the end of the day, we are all going to get there. Possibly we just want reassurance that there is something for us and our loved ones after we die.”
She suggests anyone wanting to suspend their disbelief should take part in a tour.
“You can step out of your comfort zone and see if you can cope with the greater mysteries of life…”
Oborn tells KBB she is proud of her businesses success. Apart from the recent SA tourism accolades, Haunted Horizons has also been a finalist in the Telstra Business Awards.
“The first time we were named finalist, we were stunned. The following year we were named finalist again, and the feeling was no different. The tourism awards are great, but with the Telstra Business Awards, we were now up against ALL types of businesses and it’s very prestigious. To have made this far as a finalist was a very humbling experience but very exciting. It is hard to get dark tourism taken credibly, especially ‘ghost tours’, as there is so much stigma attached. So it is amazing and gave us a lot of confidence in ourselves, in what we do, and also helps us move forward and grow.”