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Pandemic Wrecks Tourism Season in Santa's Hometown

Pandemic Wrecks Tourism Season in Santa's Hometown

Tuesday, 22 September, 2020 - 06:30
Santa Claus and his reindeer in Rovaniemi, Lapland, in Finland. Photo: AFP

Thousands of travelers fly every year to visit the real Santa's grotto in the Finnish Lapland, but the coronavirus pandemic is expected to wreck the season this year, which worries those who work in the tourism sector in the region.

"Now we've had one or two bookings a week, and mostly we're just doing refunds. We'll be bankrupt after December if we don't get any bookings," tour operator Sini Jin told AFP.

Jin's company, Nordic Unique Travels offers expeditions into the wild Finish Tundra to thousands of travelers from Europe and Asia every season.

In the previous years, the company used to hire around 80 seasonal workers from around the world in the peak of the season, however, this year it has hired only two or three people.

Jin's company received emergency financial aid after the government put aside over a billion euros ($1.2 billion) to help businesses, but it has not been enough to compensate for the lack of tourists.

"Everything we've worked for will be gone so quickly if we don't get help," she urged. Her predicament is shared by tourist companies across the region, where the sector supports 10,000 jobs and generates one billion euros of annual revenue.

Without international visitors this winter, around 60 percent of tourism companies expect to lose at least half their turnover and 75 percent would have to lay off staff, showed a report by a tourist board in Lapland.

Kaj Erkkila, who runs a 10-person family business, said: "We're not hopeful of getting any significant bookings. If this winter's revenue stays low, we might not be able to operate in 2021-22 either, as maintaining the dogs is very expensive."

As part of efforts to boost the tourism industry in Lapland, the Finish Government has loosened travel restrictions, and allowed Europeans to visit the region for three days. But if the visit lasts for more than three days, they should be quarantined and tested.

The government also allowed unconditional entry for travelers from countries where fewer than 25 new cases are registered per 100,000 inhabitants (compared to 10 previously).

"Opening Finland's borders is a good solution that poses a mild manageable risk, but I'm not convinced it's sufficient to meet the demand and maintain the local businesses," said Sanna Karkkainen, head of local tourism association Visit Rovaniemi, told AFP

"The number of tourists is very low compared to the past years, that's the heartbreaking thing. We really need this industry in order to build a future for Lapland, and letting it go is not an option," she said.

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