Santa Claus and heavy snowfalls are attracting tourists back to Lapland, bolstering Finland’s tourism industry that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Tourists from Spain, Italy and Dubai were among many to visit Lapland over the Christmas period. Letters to Santa received at his village were sent from “all around the world,” postal elf Elina told Reuters.
The city of Rovaniemi in Lapland is the official hometown of Santa Claus, its tourism website says, with attractions that include a Santa Claus village and trips inside the Arctic Circle.
Visits are estimated to reach 70-80 percent of pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels, Sanna Karkkainen managing director of Rovaniemi Tourism and Marketing told Reuters.
Karkkainen said that the discovery of the new omicron variant had not caused cancellations like rising case rates and Finland’s strict travel restrictions did last year.
Finnish airport group Finavia said the number of charter flights for this year’s Christmas season was close to 90% of what it was in the 2019 season.
Before the pandemic in December 2019, Lapland’s tourism industry saw 724 charter flights land in its four northernmost airports, with Kittila and Rovaniemi being the most popular destinations, Finavia said.
Tourist agency Visit Rovaniemi said there had been no cancellations.
Finland currently requires tourists to present proof of vaccination, a negative test result or having recovered from COVID-19 within the past six months.
Karkkainen said that most tourists come from the United Kingdom, but there are an increasing number of visitors from France and Italy.
In December 2019, Lapland had 152,000 visitors and accommodation sales totalled 39.3 million euros, travel research company TAK said.
But the pandemic stopped 98% of visitors and 79% of accommodation sales, according to TAK statistics.
Pre-pandemic, Finnish travel exports were growing by 12% annually and the industry accounted for 2.7% of the Finnish gross domestic product, a 2020 report by the Finnish ministry of economic affairs said.