College Station looking to expand Christmas beyond Santa’s Wonderland

KBTX News 3 at Ten(Recurring)
Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 10:15 PM CDT
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - Christmas might look a little different this year in College Station as the city prepares for its “Christmas in College Station” presentation on Thursday, but a part of that meeting will be about a new sponsorship agreement with Santa’s Wonderland.

According to the agenda, the city is looking at a one-year agreement with Santa’s Wonderland where the holiday attraction would be paid $75,000 with hotel occupancy tax revenue. For the past three years, Santa’s Wonderland has received $150,000. College Station Mayor John Nichols said the agreement allowed local hotels to create a link on the Santa’s Wonderland website which makes it more convenient for potential tourists and guests, however, this new contract would require hotels to pay to be featured.

The changes have frustrated some hotels in the area, including Embassy Suites’ general manager who went before the city council on September 14th to voice his concerns.

“Santa’s Wonderland has been a great stream of revenue for many businesses in College Station specifically in the hospitality industry and I’m afraid that the recent change in that partnership may have made it a bit difficult for families booking their tickets to search for hotels, restaurants if they’re not listed on their website,” Mark Karbotly, General Manager, Embassy Suites said.

Karbotly said to the council he was also worried the new arrangement would affect revenue, however, Nichols said that while the response had been good in some aspects overall the number of rooms being reserved through the system was less than the city expected.

“The data that was shared with us indicated that maybe that wasn’t the best way for us to approach it,” Nichols said. “There was or two hotels that did a really good job, but overall the total was just a few thousand pickups over the entire period, so we thought we could continue that relationship which we are.”

Nichols said College Station will still be heavily involved with Santa’s Wonderland by having the city’s sign featured, decals on the busses, and direct access to the city’s Christmas in College Station homepage on the holiday attractions website. He said the reason for the change was because the city felt like it was time to move to different approaches, however, it’s something they will review yearly.

“We understand that we were providing an opportunity for them to have free access during that period of time and we certainly want them to continue to leverage their own business needs with Santa’s Wonderland simply we’re reverting back to how it was pre-COVID when they had an access fee and that’s their value proposition that they have,” Nichols said.

Despite concerns from local hotels, Brazos Valley Hospitality Association President Greg Stafford said the local hospitality industry loves Santa’s Wonderland, but this is the next step for the city to expand it’s holiday celebrations, and it’s what he would like the funds to be used for.

“Those things are ultimately accretive to the notion of Christmas in Aggieland and I think that is going to be the better way to go,” Stafford said. “I do not believe smaller hotels even those hotels that are close to Santa’s Wonderland are going to struggle. I think the numbers will be as good as they were last year and probably better.”

By creating more holiday celebrations, Stafford said he hopes it will draw in more people from across the state who stay two nights instead of one.

“More people, longer stays that’s good for the community and frankly good for the industry as well, so I believe that’s personally where I want to see things go and where I think our industry wants to go,” Stafford said.

Visit College will also present its plans for this year’s Christmas in College Station. Nichols said the goal is to reach beyond the community.

“It pulls people in through at least the middle of December if not the end of December to fill hotel rooms that are not otherwise being utilized during that time,” Nichols said. “We’re trying to add some excitement, some interest and get the word out.”

Stafford said Aggieland’s hospitality industry needs Christmas to thrive and he’s excited about what the city has in store as they try to make College Station the place to be for the holidays.

“Santa’s Wonderland will always be the core of that, we expect there are ways to grow that opportunity bigger than that is and that is mostly about other things going on in College Station that relate to Christmas,” Stafford said. “There are a lot of big things that we could do around Christmas from concerts to market, all kinds of things that will be supportive and additional to what Santa’s Wonderland does.”


On Thursday Santa’s Wonderland sent a statement to KBTX. The statement said the partnership has had a significant impact on the local economy over the past three years that’s allowed Santa’s Wonderland to attract more overnight visitors and travelers to the city.

“The partnership has provided the City of College Station with prominent signage within the park and deployed a dynamic and comprehensive marketing campaign, which reached millions of potential travelers through hundreds of targeted ads, ensuring the success of the Christmas in College Station message,” Santa’s Wonderland said.

According to the statement over 80% of the attraction’s guests traveled from 50 miles away and 21% of their guests, about 66,732 people, stayed in hotels overnight. It goes on to state that the Santa’s Wonderland website referred 86,637 visits to local hotel lodging booking pages.

Last year the attraction also introduced the nightly parking and shuttle services at Post Oak Mall something Santa’s Wonderland said brought thousands of guests “directly into the heart of College Station.” Santa’s Wonderland said over 35,000 individuals took advantage of the service during the 2022 season.

“It’s worth noting that Santa’s Wonderland incurs an additional cost of over $300,000 to operate the 10 nightly shuttles to and from Post Oak Mall, underscoring our commitment to the local community,” Santa’s Wonderland said.

Discussions to renew a new partnership for this year began back in February.

“It is our belief that by working together, we can continue to position College Station as the premier destination for creating cherished Christmas memories in the Southern U.S.,” Santa’s Wonderland said.

The full statement can be read below: