How Lapland plans to save Christmas from Covid

(CNN) — Santa sitting safely behind plexiglass. Elves sustaining a protected social distance whereas sporting surgical masks.

It’s a really 2020 tackle festive cheer, however with a vacation season like no different quick approaching, Lapland’s tourism operators imagine it is the easiest way to save Christmas and save themselves after a brutal 12 months which has seen customer numbers plummet from document highs in 2019.

They’ve been helped by Finland’s new quarantine rules, due to come into drive November 23, which can, regardless of a Europe-wide second wave of coronavirus instances that’s prompting new lockdowns, enable 72-hour visits within the nation with out the necessity to quarantine.
Tourists from EU and Europe’s 26-country Schengen visa space will likely be permitted to arrive offered they take a Covid take a look at 72 hours earlier than departure and have proof that it is detrimental. Longer stays would require self-isolation and a second take a look at. The guidelines are topic to change, nevertheless, with the Finnish government redrafting plans at the time of writing.

“Christmas is definitely not canceled,” says Sanna Kärkkäinen, CEO of Visit Rovaniemi, the official dwelling of Santa Claus, excessive above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland.

“This year will be different to previous years, but I’m sure that the travelers that do end up coming here will of course find huge enjoyment.”

Kärkkäinen says companies within the area have been working flat out since summer season preparing for the vacations, making certain they comply with well being and security protocols to the letter.

“Together with the Lapland hospital district we’ve created a Covid-safe travel model. It’s a large network of tourism providers and destinations here in Lapland and everyone has been involved.

“We are very dedicated to working in that means and naturally that’s one in all our indicators to vacationers that we’re doing all the pieces to make tourism protected and safe.”

Striking a balance

It’s not what you think. To understand the heart of Rovaniemi, Finland, step away from the city center and into the quiet of the forest, where reindeer rule.

As well as Santa sitting behind plexiglass and his elves donning PPE, Kärkkäinen says that the lack of large groups and focus on individual groups means that visitors to Santa’s workshop won’t find any issues in ensuring social distancing.

“In a means the decrease numbers helps us to develop the companies to a degree that we are able to actually combine and match the well being measures with all of the companies we offer,” she says.

Domestic tourists have already been making their way north to see Santa, with Kärkkäinen reporting that the experience has been largely similar to previous years.

However, Kärkkäinen fears the strict quarantine-free time limit could mean some tourists opt to stay away.

“Seventy-two hours is sort of a brief keep for Lapland,” she says. “Normally they’re between three to 4 days. Our goal has all the time been to have individuals benefit from the space and the vacation spot in full, which signifies that stays have tended to be longer, which after all means journeys are extra sustainable.”

Despite this, operators have been tweaking schedules, cramming in sled rides, husky experiences and the chance to see the Northern Lights before getting travelers back to the airport in time for a swift departure.

Alistair McLean, managing director of The Artisan Travel Company, which runs bespoke trips to the region, says he’s been impressed with how Finland is adapting to the situation.

“The Finnish authorities specifically has been working extraordinarily intently with tourism representatives from Lapland to strike the nice steadiness between controlling the unfold and permitting their important tourism business to function safely,” he says.

The nature of the outdoor activities on offer in Lapland means that it’s easier to keep a safe distance, while usually spending time only with those you’ve traveled to the country with, he adds.

“We can’t assure for sure that Father Christmas or his elves is not going to be sporting a masks,” says McLean.

“We imagine after the unbelievable means everybody has tailored to the brand new regular of 2020, having a really memorable, magical vacation to finish the 12 months will likely be extremely rewarding — even with a few additional security precautions.”

Simon Lynch, director of sales at Scott Dunn is similarly upbeat.

“The season forward appears to be like promising for Finnish and Swedish Lapland,” he says.

“We’re inspired by the flurry of inquiries that we have had for each of those locations, each from households who’re searching for that final bucket-list journey over the festive interval to see Santa and the reindeer, in addition to from {couples} who’re trying to various winter locations for a distant romantic getaway underneath the Northern Lights, the place they could have beforehand opted for a ski-focused winter journey elsewhere in Europe.”

Meanwhile in Sweden

Meet the man who could give Santa Claus a run for his money with his high-flying sled.

Across the border in Sweden, Schengen, EU and UK visitors are not subject to quarantine rules. And the isolated nature of the region means that it’s possible to enjoy a relatively safe break there, even if Santa actually lives in Finland.

“We are a vacation spot with giant areas, a variety of small and personal lodgings and largely out of doors actions which might be provided to small teams or non-public firms,” says Anna Skogh, from the Swedish Lapland Visitors Board. “That has been a bonus when adjusting to a extra socially distanced expertise for guests’ security.

Despite this, Skogh is just not optimistic about customer numbers.

Last year saw record visitor numbers to Lapland.

Last 12 months noticed document customer numbers to Lapland.

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP by way of Getty Images

“It does not look good for this winter. Long-distance travelers cannot travel, and travel restrictions for the closer markets change week by week. Swedish Lapland is particularly affected because we are such an international destination, especially for the winter season.

“The indications we get are that persons are very fascinated by touring right here, however with the prevailing circumstances it’s a problem to make it occur.”

She says that there has been an increase in inquiries about direct charter flights to the region, subverting the need to change planes in Stockholm. However, with flight operators struggling, this remains an unlikely proposition for all but the wealthiest of winter-lovers.

It’s Santa on the line

Christmas is big business in Rovaniemi, Finland but Santa Claus isn’t what first sparked tourism in this Arctic Circle city.

Some operators have decided that with a backdrop of ever-shifting travel restrictions, a switch to a virtual approach is the way to go. After a year of video calls for work and catching up with family, it seems obvious that Santa should be available on screen rather than in person.

UK-based festive break specialist Santa’s Lapland is offering “Santa, Live from Lapland” video calls for £85 ($111) for a family with up to four children. The calls last 10 minutes and are hosted by an elf who takes the family on a tour of Santa’s cabin before meeting the big man himself.

The company suspended its 2020 trips in the wake of increasingly stringent travel measures from the UK to mainland Europe.

“With restrictions growing all through the UK, many people have been questioning how we are going to preserve the magic of Christmas 2020 alive,” says Santa’s Lapland CEO Paul Carter. “We intend to assist make it one to keep in mind, by providing households the possibility to meet Santa from the consolation and security of their very own dwelling.

“While no Christmas can compare to the sheer excitement of traveling to Lapland to visit Santa in his snowy cabin, where the reindeer are real, and the Northern Lights dance across the night sky. Families will now still be able to enjoy a taste of the real Lapland magic this Christmas.”

Looking to 2021 and past

Many visitors have delayed their trip to Lapland until 2021.

Many guests have delayed their journey to Lapland till 2021.

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP by way of Getty Images

Santa’s Lapland has already began providing bookings for 2021 and says that lots of its clients who misplaced out this 12 months have merely rebooked for subsequent Christmas.

Julie Kenyon from Lapland Experiences says this has turn into in style with these eager to have one thing to look ahead to in 12 months’ time.

“Some of our tour operator partners have completely suspended their 2020 Santa program and moved most of their clients to 2021. Therefore, for people wanting to visit Lapland in December 2021, it is important to get booked up now as demand will be very high next year. I am moving clients to 2021 already and places are limited for this type of trip.

“If 2020 journeys are usually not potential, the main focus will shift to 2021 and I will likely be making certain that each one our 2020 shoppers are re-booked, and I’ll advise anybody to get their Lapland vacation booked as quickly as potential for subsequent 12 months.”

In Rovaniemi, where even the city street plan is shaped like a reindeer, Sanna Kärkkäinen is also looking to 2021 for a boost.

“We are positively trying positively into the following season and the following winter season, ’21/22. I feel that would be the greatest goal now. Once the world is recovering, I feel our improvement with tourism will likely be good once more.”

For now although, saving Christmas relies on Finland holding its new journey restrictions in place and intrepid Santa followers to look previous the plexiglass and stump up for a pre-flight Covid take a look at.

Only time will inform if Christmas 2020 actually hasn’t been canceled.

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