Santa 2020 – Is running a festive event right for you?

The temperature has dropped and we’re just a matter of weeks away from one of the biggest sales and marketing opportunities of the year, but how do you approach Christmas in a Covid-safe way?

Our resident ‘Man in Red’ Andrew Burton advises.

According to recent trends analysis, interest in running Santa’s Grottos has reduced significantly in 2020 as a result of Covid-19 and the presented challenges in terms of controlling visitor safety and social distancing.

So, are Christmas events something that we won’t see until 2021, or are there ways of enabling children to have the opportunity to see Santa this year?

We know that the benefits of a grotto or Christmas event are focused on providing a seasonal customer/community attraction, increasing footfall into retail areas and adding value to the customer’s visit.  But a business needs to assess the risk and make its own decision as to whether it is going to run a Santa offer this year, and more importantly if the decision is to do so,  HOW are they going to run one.

Customer expectations will vary, but as a parent of a young child, my view is that if I can find somewhere which can bring some magic and fun to my kids and do so in a way that is safe for all of the family, then I’m certainly interested.

For example…Lets say an experience might include a walk through a Christmas scene, into a spacious area with the right facilities to facilitate safety and social distancing, where my daughter could make a decoration and/or reindeer food, before entering a room or marquee where Santa arrives on a stage and reads a Christmas story to a collection of children sat at an appropriate distance apart.   Perhaps Santa could then sit on a sleigh in the front seat and the kids can stand 1m behind him on a back seat for a photo opportunity too.

This could potentially allow children to take away a photo of their visit, a copy of the book Santa has just read from, with a front page signed by Santa wishing them a special Christmas (and if this was done as a pre-booked event it could even be personalised),  a decoration and some food for Christmas Eve – a real WOW factor in my eyes!

This personalised present would be something really special related to this year’s specific visit and I still remember my eldest daughter (now 20 years old) having her best Santa visit ever when she visited Hoo Farm in Telford.  Why was this her best Santa visit – she was given something that related to the farm that was personal to her.

That’s just my view; others will have different expectations and needs, and with Christmas being just a matter of weeks away, these are the conversations that Garden Centres and Farm Shops need to start having at once to get processes in place.

In London, trainee Santas are learning how to make traditional grottos COVID-safe this year! Through festive red velvet masks, spaced seating and a contact-free transfer of gifts to children, London entertainment company Ministry of Fun has identified ways to reassure both clients hiring a Santa and the public seeking to visit that it’s possible to make the experience safer during the coronavirus pandemic.   Check out the video to see how.

Facilities, size and presence of a grotto are also likely to help in decision making here, but what businesses offer as a festive experience is also critical. 

Price also needs to have a strong consideration.  With many people throughout the UK being affected by income reductions due to Covid-19 this needs consideration too and this could be the make or break of running an event when a reduction in numbers visiting is likely.

So, what happens if a business decides it wants to progress with a Santa offer?

Planning your Grotto experience or Breakfast with Santa

  • Plan ahead and plan well – set your date as early as you can and publicise it as early as possible – 2020 will see visitors booking well in advance if numbers are limited, and getting tickets out as early as possible could be the difference between a successful event or an event with a lack of ambience.
  • Businesses ideally need to share the work and information with their network and teams.  Don’t take all the responsibility for planning, have regular discussions about the event planning and preparation.
  • Make sure you budget well enough to cover your costs and make a profit. If an event is to be used a marketing tool, then control spend levels. 
  • What offer is the right offer? There are many festive experiences a business can offer.  Are you going to run a socially distanced Santa’s grotto, a breakfast with Santa, have Santa read a story to a group of kids on a stage, a cinema experience, or a festive lights display? Consider your options.  However, whatever you decide, social distancing and safety is going to play its part this year.  The event needs risk assessing and planning to cover every aspect.  This shouldn’t be taken lightly and ensuring safety of everyone – visitors, staff, elves and Santa – is essential!
  • Ticketing or just turning up? There are pros and cons for both – though of course in these Covid-19 times, my advice is that grottos only take advanced ticket bookings and manage time slots effectively to support safety and social distancing. 
  • Ensure you have enough helpers on the day and that you’ve planned staff cover to control all aspects of the event, including social distancing and breaks.  Also, have people on standby you can call on if anyone (including Santa!) is ill or unable to help.
  • Design your marketing well – Dates and pricing are essential, but so is highlighting the essential parental requirements for 2020 – Safety first, with a fantastic Christmas experience for the kids!
  • Distribute social media and marketing well in advance and ask all your friends and family, local shops, schools and community centre to put up posters for your event.
  • Unless you know the exact gender split in each age group, order roughly 35% girls grotto gifts, 35% boys grotto gifts and 30% unisex gifts. Give out the girls and boys gifts first, then you are always left with appropriate gifts for either sex.
  • As a rough guide, if your grotto is open to the public and you’re not sure of the percentage in each age range, the split of ages tends to be roughly 15% under three, 35% age three-five, 40% age six-eight and 10% in age nine-plus – older children don’t necessarily want to see Father Christmas, but really don’t like to be left out of receiving a gift when their siblings do!

It is going to be a strange Christmas, filled with lots of reflection and family focus.  Many businesses may decide to be cautious with their Christmas offer, throughout retail, catering and events, but I am sure many will want to bring some magic to their customers too.

It excites me as a businessman and a parent to deliver something special, whilst being safe.  For me, Christmas is about the kids, parents and grandparents, especially in 2020 which has been such a tough year for us all – but this year it is important that it really benefits a business.

Andrew has 20 years of experience in running festive events alongside the retail and catering proposition.  These events range from a breakfast for 20 children through to 37,000 visitors to see Santa throughout December.

To discuss your Christmas ideas or plans, you can contact Andrew at 01905 721964 or at