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Canadian Mall Landlords Innovate with Virtual Santa Experiences

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Santa won’t be coming to town this year at CF shopping centres across the country.

Cadillac Fairview, the operator of 19 malls in Canada, has announced it is moving all Santa Claus experiences to virtual and online only this year.

“We’ve had extensive conversations with government officials, conducted consumer research, and spoken directly with our guests in order to get our approach to this holiday season just right. Similar to what we’ve seen with other important events like weddings and birthday parties, we believe this temporary shift to online is the responsible thing to do in a very different year,” said Craig Flannagan, VP of Marketing, Cadillac Fairview.

Craig Flannagan

“While we know this may be disappointing for families who look forward to this annual tradition, we firmly believe this is the best decision and we are confident that our virtual Santa experiences will deliver all of the magic of the holidays.”

All across the country, shopping centres are deciding how the traditional Santa Claus experience for children will be conducted this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s really dependent on where they are located as every province has its own pandemic-related restrictions in place. Some shopping centres, like CF, are closing down personal Santa visits and going with the virtual experience. Others, like for example, Oxford-owned Southcentre Mall in Calgary will continue with the personal traditional experience but with a twist and with several health safety measures in place.

Cadillac Fairview Introduces Virtual Santa Experiences Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Cadillac Fairview said it is introducing several new virtual Santa experiences to keep the magic and spirit of the season alive for Canadian families. CF Storytime LIVE with Santa will take place on Facebook LIVE! and feature 15-minute episodes in both English and French that will bring families together at home. Also new this season: virtual visits with Santa where families can have a video chat with Santa. Parents can arrange to receive a special video call with Santa while he’s busy at the North Pole preparing for the holiday season. For more information and to make reservations for these virtual experiences, people can visit their local property website, found on cfshops.com.

At Southcentre Mall, the Santa experience will be new this year. People will be able to capture photos at a brand-new Santa set, on the second level of the mall just outside of Hudson’s Bay, that will offer the same magical experience for families, while ensuring everyone remains safely distanced.

Enhanced sanitization protocols will also be implemented between each visit as people travel through Santa’s Christmas tree farm and make their way to his shiny red truck to have their photo taken next to the mask-wearing Christmas icon. Southcentre’s signature ‘Sensory-friendly Santa’ program will also return this year with designated booking times for children who have sensory sensitivities and mobility issues to visit Santa in a modified environment, making it possible for all families to experience this holiday tradition. Pet owners will also be invited to attend with their furry friends for pet photos with Santa on designated dates, explained Southcentre.

Southcentre Mall's Santa Instagram announcement
Southcentre Mall’s Santa Instagram announcement

It said this year’s Santa-scape will include one-way traffic flow, designated entrance and exit points, clearly marked waiting zones, minimal touch points, temperature checks and mandatory hand sanitization upon entry. People will be encouraged to book their visit in advance using the online booking system which will accommodate 10 photo sessions per hour on a daily basis up until Christmas Eve.

“We’ve pretty much revamped the whole Santa experience in order to address all the challenges with COVID-19,” said Alexandra Velosa, Marketing Manager, Southcentre Mall. “We moved from a common area into a contained space.

Alexandra Velosa (Linkedin)

“It has been a difficult year for everyone and we know it was needed just to spread some cheer and encourage good behaviour and kindness. We’ve been thinking of everything people have been through this year and Santa is such a beautiful family tradition that we took the challenge of delivering a program that is safe but at the same time brings a nice experience to the families so that they can enjoy Christmas as normal as possible.

“It’s going to be safe and social distanced but it’s not going to be the same we know that but we’re trying our best to at least build a space where memories can be taken and everyone can leave with a beautiful photo even though they are wearing a mask.”

Southcentre Mall Sees Early Beginning to Holiday Shopping Season

Southcentre Mall, like other shopping centres across the country, is seeing an earlier beginning this year to the holiday shopping season and it is responding with enhanced customer service, curbside pickup parking spots, and digital tools.

“While we recognize that holiday shopping will be different this year, we remain committed to providing shoppers with an exceptional guest experience that takes them beyond the commercialism of the season. We continue to prioritize the health and safety of all as we provide access to a number of cheerful holiday traditions, including a fresh take on visiting Santa,” said Velosa.

“We have also introduced a range of digital tools and services to help customers shop safely and efficiently and continue to be mindful of how the in-person shopping experience has evolved and impacted both our shoppers and our retailers. By planning ahead and visiting us online, shoppers can search for products before they shop, make note of curbside pickup zones and take advantage of ordering food for delivery or pickup.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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