Santa gets relevant

Before we know it, Saint Nicholas will be back at malls, theme parks and hotel lobbies while countless numbers of families embark on the seasonal meet ’n’ greet. Long lines will occur to observe children hop on Santa’s lap pretending they’ve been “good all year” before reciting a wish list, receiving a candy cane and, yes, capturing the ever-so-memorable photo. 

Recently, I became privy to a massive undertaking surrounding the ambience of staging a Santa experience and immediately saw a parallel to what hotel chains experience as they rebrand flags and launch new ones.

For months, DreamWorks Animation (publicly traded and operating separately from Steven Spielberg’s privately held DreamWorks Studio) has been working on a secret prototype for a product it hopes will change how their younger guests will meet Santa each Christmas. Say hello to DreamPlace.

For businesses that buy in, Santa Claus will still sit inside a 2,000-sq-ft (186-sq-m) “cottage,” but this time the walls are essentially giant video screens that take children (along with Shrek) on a virtual eye-popping sleigh ride adventure that includes an unforgettable full narrative journey of the North Pole before meeting Santa. The best part? No more waiting in line! Why? Appointments will be made from apps. Simple yet genius!

This amazing theatrical statement is not only a brilliant way for DreamWorks Animation to diversify into new areas such as going overseas or to boost additional sales via consumer product sales, it happens to be an excellent example of how vital it is for any brand to push the envelope and create new appeal by offering refreshed and relevant products that tell a story regardless of how old or new. Genius again.

After each adventure, children will be walking away with so much more than a traditional picture taken with Santa, as they’ll have a story to tell the rest of their lives. Retooling and restyling traditions, products or programs you’ve been comfortably married to for years falls under the trend pulse of lifestyle branding. I dare say that today, “playing it safe” could very well be the biggest risk a hotel operator can take. The time has arrived to push the envelope and be relevant to what inspires and impresses the guests of today by making something old new again or going outside the traditional hospitality boundaries.

Although the DreamPlace interactive sleigh ride may not fit into all budgets, it serves to be a great reminder of how crucial it is to reexamine our own traditions. Ask yourself: Can your current package of products and services make believers out of those who are not currently partaking of your offering?

I look forward to hearing what you’re doing this holiday season to bring your properties to life and deliver an unparalleled experience guests will walk away with for many years to come!