Strictly Business: Santa FastPass hurries tradition

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor



e all know about the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. We fill our days and nights with gatherings of family and friends, decorating the home and trimming the tree, and shopping, shopping, shopping.

Parents of small children add a visit to see Santa Claus to their to-do list. That visit should be one of the joys of parenting. But when dozens of kids — all nice, none naughty — and their parents are waiting ahead of you, Santa’s “Ho, Ho, Ho” can seem more mockery than cheer.

That waiting time can be part of the joyful experience for parents. You’re with your kid, it’s the holiday season, and the anticipation builds as you draw nearer to Santa’s big red chair. I still remember the excitement of my first visit with my parents to a department store Santa, way back when. I don’t remember if we had a long wait; that’s something that parents remember, not children.

But more shopping awaits. And more cooking, cleaning, getting ready for work.

Westfield Vancouver mall now offers relief to those who feel all that anxiety. It’s called a Santa FastPass.

By going online before heading to the mall, FastPass users jump into an express lane that avoids the wait for Santa’s attentions. As Westfield describes the new service on its website, your kid can “bypass the regular line and hop on to our faster VIP entrance line.” In Vancouver, the VIPs approach discreetly from Santa’s right side, little noticed by those in the regular lineup to Santa’s left.

It all makes sense, says the company, which has rolled out the FastPass in many of its U.S. malls. After all, the mall operator asks, “Why wait in line, when you can pay online?”

There’s a $3.50 service fee for the pass. While the man from the North Pole will greet even those who don’t buy photos if they wait in the regular line, there’s no escaping a photo purchase with the Fast Pass. Photo packages range from $21 to $47.

Chris Yates, marketing director at Westfield Vancouver, says the Australia-based company tested the FastPass last year at its Roseville, Calif. mall. It was a “definite hit” there, he says, but the response in Vancouver so far has been light. He expects to see more FastPass users as the pace of the season picks up.

The pass is, Yates says, just one more time-management tool that helps people plan their day. For that reason, I suspect that it will become highly popular. We all weigh time against money, and most people can think of plenty of places they’d rather be than a long line at the mall filled with restless children. Westfield is offering a pragmatic, business-savvy alternative that guarantees an expenditure for photos. And it has a side benefit of giving mom and dad more time to shop. It’s another sign of just how busy we’ve all become even in the joyful season.

But while the Santa FastPass speeds us along on our journey through the Christmas season, in some ways it shortcuts our longer journey through the unpredictable pacings of life that can lead to unexpected delights. We turn some children into VIPs while others implicitly are not quite as special — to rush them through rituals that once required us to slow down. Maybe Santa’s best gift for a VIP child is time to enjoy life in all its magic moments, both large and small.

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