Parents are asked to pre-book their adventure to lock down their time in the simulator, but even no-frills Santa Villages now often offer online bookings. This has created a new line of revenue for the photography companies, that turn the collected information—names, email addresses, names and ages of children—into sellable data. According to Hancock, data is now the hot commodity for Santa production companies. WorldWide’s Conroy says she knows that’s true among competitors (who did not respond to Quartz’s request for information), but that her firm “isn’t there yet.”

Forcing Santa to go mobile has opened him up to occasional abuse

We’re all working from everywhere now, and Santa is not an exception. Over the past decade, according to Hancock, more mall managers have begun asking their Santas to roam shops and food courts wearing the hot, heavy suit, to both increase the number of shoppers he’ll interact with and reduce the amount of real estate dedicated to Santa’s village, says Hancock. That space can be better used to house additional shops or kiosks.

But roaming has also left Santas less secure. One performer told the researcher about a group of teenagers in a UK mall who followed him around pulling on his beard and shouting obscenities. Another Santa was nearly mugged, though he stayed in character throughout the ordeal. He told his assailant, “Santa is like the queen. He doesn’t carry money.”

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