GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It is a holiday tradition for many - Christmas photos with Santa. Last year COVID-19 prevented families from having the little ones sit on Santa's lap and tell him what they want for the holidays. But this year the tradition is back in a new way to serve both those who are and still are not ready to visit with Santa in person.
Businesses and families had to adapt during the pandemic to still spread some holiday cheer. Virtual Santa became extremely popular in 2020. Event management company 82 South created "Chit Chat with Santa" last year, offering kids the opportunity to talk to Santa and Mrs. Claus online, in the comfort of their own home.
"And then they can share that visit with their grandparents or other family members. Or they can download it and show them and embarrass the kids 10 years from now," 82 South managing director DeAnna Miller said. "Last year, we had about 2,500 calls. So Santa was very busy last year, this year we're expected to do over 4,000 calls.”
Now demand for in-person Santa is also back.
"We're anticipating quite a bit of people this year," Woodland Mall marketing manager Alyson Presser said.
“We've seen a lot of shoppers express how excited they are to be back in the public and just kind of get back to their day-to-day grind. It's really exciting to see that," Presser said.
Woodland Mall's pictures with Santa are put on by holiday photo company VIP Recognition, who has gladly helped put on the event year after year.
But just like with many industries right now, demand is outweighing supply and holiday photo companies have had to get creative with recruitment.
"We did bring on a recruitment marketing specialist earlier this year to help with our field staff and seasonal hiring," Cherry Hills Programs VP of marketing and communications Chris Landtroop said.
Cherry Hills is another holiday photo company that has 800 locations across North America, including in Michigan. While they have had to amp up recruitment efforts they say they're still doing pretty well with making sure there are enough of Santa's helpers this season.
“Thankfully, we had so many programmatic recruitment strategies in place prior to that we didn't see the shortage that other smaller organizations might be challenged with," Landtroop said.