Santa's hometown is low of tourists because of Covid-19

The land of snow and reindeer faces a harsh winter as tourist numbers plummet due to concerns about the spread of the corona virus.

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During the period from November to March each year, the northern part of Finland welcomes a large number of international tourists to experience the wonderland with snow-capped scenery everywhere. They also have chances of taking excursions on the reindeer sleighs or explore the ice castle and Santa's cave.

Although the number of tourists has consistently hit record highs in recent years, the Covid-19 pandemic forced many businesses in Lapland, Finland, to close. This brings Santa's homeland closer to the prospect of a decadence winter.

Difficult situation

Many fear that moves to relax regulations of social distance and movement between European countries are not enough to offset the damage stemming from the effects of the pandemic.

"We will go bankrupt after December if we do not receive any tour bookings", tour distributor Sini Jin worried.

Jin's Nordic Unique Travels (NUT) company headquartered in Rovaniemi, Finland, has been in business for 5 years. Each year, the NUT offers hunting and exploration trips in the wilderness of the Arctic to thousands of visitors from Europe and Asia.

A deserted view at the headquarter of the Nordic Unique Travels tour distribution company in Rovaniemi, Finland. Photo: Like a Local Guide.

"Recently, we only receive one to two tour bookings a week, and we almost always have to refund customers," Jin said.

She also added that the NUT will only hire "2 or 3" seasonal staff for next winter instead of 80 as usual.

Jin's company received a subsidy in the government's business support program, but it was still not enough to compensate for the damage caused by a lack of tourists.

The predicament that NUT faces is also the same with travel agencies in Lapland, where the smokeless industry creates 10,000 jobs and generates nearly $ 1.2 billion in annual revenue.

The survey results show that sales of about 60% of tourism businesses in Lapland would halve if there are no international tourists.

Lapland's economy is heavily dependent on the tourism industry, especially from winter business activities, because the region is known as "Santa's hometown". Photo: AFP.

Nina Forsell, who is in charge of tourism operations, said many companies are in a "thousand pounds hanging hair" situation.

"If the tourism businesses fail during the winter, they will take a long time to revive," said Ms. Forsell.

"Overwhelming disappointment"

While many EU countries are tightening their regulations on social isolation, the Finnish government recently loosened immigration restrictions to promote tourism.

However, many Finnish businesses call the government-enacted rules "overwhelming disappointment" because the measures do not work.

Regulations enacted by the Finnish government with the aim of promoting tourism are not expected to work. Photo: AFP.

Specifically, according to government regulations, visitors from the UK and France, the countries with the most tourists to Finland, will not have to participate in quarantine if the trip is less than 3 days and going in groups.

But travel agencies say tours of Lapland are usually longer than 3 days, so you'll have to take part in quarantine and undergo additional tests.

“Are these measures enough to meet needs and support businesses in Lapland to continue operating? I don't think so, ”said Visit Rovaniemi's director Sanna Karkkainen.

Travel service providers have been working with health professionals to develop safety standards to remove or loosen regulations on social segregation.

Trips to Lapland are usually longer than 3 days, so international tourists are forced to take part in quarantine and other procedures. Photo: Tour Radar.

Finland is one of the countries with the lowest corona virus infection rates in Europe with 8,750 cases and 337 deaths. Of which, Lapland only recorded 243 positive cases.

"We are not giving up and working to help the authorities see that there are still better solutions," said Ms. Forsell.

The fanciful scene like in a fairy tale makes Rovaniemi a famous tourist destination. Photo: Nordic Adventures.

Some large-scale travel agencies, like Santa Park in Rovaniemi, have decided not to open next winter. The park employs about 400 staff and welcomes over 120,000 visitors each season.

However, many smaller businesses have said they will do everything they can to keep their business afloat and hope the government will receive a larger number of international visitors.

“We really need travel to build Lapland's future. We cannot leave the service industry alone, ”said Ms. Karkkainen.

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