Despite COVID, tourists are returning to Northern Finland seeking Santa Claus

After a season of almost no visitors in 2020, Northern Finland is again seeing a big return in Christmas tourism.

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HELSINKI — Santa Claus and heavy snowfalls are attracting British tourists back to Finnish Lapland, bolstering Finland’s tourism industry that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Most of the tourists coming to Lapland over Christmas are from Britain, Sanna Karkkainen managing director of Rovaniemi Tourism and Marketing told Reuters.

“The first British charters come in mid-November and for them the focus of the trip is to meet Santa,” Karkkainen said.

The city of Rovaniemi in Northern Finland 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.

Karkkainen said that the discovery of the new omicron variant of COVID-19 had not caused cancellations this season, as rising case rates and Finland’s strict travel restrictions did last year.

Britain has recently tightened rules for people coming back into the country, requiring them to take a pre-departure COVID-19 test and another test on arrival in England, despite their vaccination status.

Finnish airport group Finavia and tourist agency Visit Rovaniemi both said there had been no cancellations.

Finavia said the number of charter flights for this year’s Christmas season was close to 90 percent of what it was in the 2019 season.

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 says that while most tourists still come from the United Kingdom, there are an increasing number of visitors from France and Italy.

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.

In December 2019, Lapland had 152,000 visitors and accommodation sales totaled 39.3 million euros, travel research company TAK said.

But the pandemic stopped 98 percent of visitors and 79 percent of accommodation sales, according to TAK statistics.

Pre-pandemic, Finnish travel exports were growing by 12 percent annually and the industry accounted for 2.7 percent of the Finnish gross domestic product, a 2020 report by the Finnish ministry of economic affairs said.