Santa sitting safely behind Plexiglas. Mythical people keeping up a protected social distance while wearing surgical masks.
It’s a very 2020 take on festive cheer, but with a holiday season like no other fast approaching, Lapland’s tourism operators believe it’s the best way to save Christmas and save themselves after a brutal year which has seen visitor numbers plummet from record highs in 2019.
They’ve been helped by Finland’s new quarantine rules, due to come into force November 23, which will, despite a Europe-wide second wave of coronavirus cases that is prompting new lockdowns, allow 72-hour visits in the country without the need to quarantine.
Tourists from EU and Europe’s 26-country Schengen visa area will be permitted to arrive provided they take a Covid test 72 hours before departure and have proof that it’s negative. Longer stays will require self-isolation and a second test. The rules are subject to change, however, with the Finnish government redrafting plans at the time of writing.
“Christmas is definitely not dropped,” says Sanna Kärkkäinen, CEO of Visit Rovaniemi, the official home of Santa Claus, high over the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland.
“This year will be not the same as previous years, however I’m certain that the travelers that do end up coming here will obviously find huge enjoyment.”
Kärkkäinen says businesses in the area have been working flat out since summer getting ready for the holidays, ensuring they follow wellbeing and safety protocols to the letter.
“Along with the Lapland hospital district we’ve made a COVID-safe travel model. It’s a huge network of tourism providers and destinations here in Lapland and everybody has been involved.
“We are very committed to operating in that way and obviously that is one of our signals to tourists that we are doing everything to make tourism safe and secure.”
Striking A Balance
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.
“As it were, the lower numbers help us to develop the services to a level that we can truly blend and match the wellbeing measures with all the services we give,” she says.
Domestic tourists have just been making their way north to see Santa, with Kärkkäinen reporting that the experience has been largely similar to previous years.
Be that as it may, Kärkkäinen fears the strict isolate free time limit could mean a few tourists opt to remain away.
“Seventy-two hours is quite a short stay for Lapland,” she says. “Normally they’re between three to four days. Our aim has always been to have people enjoy the area and the destination in full, which means that stays have tended to be longer, which of course means trips are more sustainable.”
Despite this, operators have been tweaking schedules, cramming in sled rides, husky experiences, and the chance to see the Northern Lights before to 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 district, says he’s been impressed with how Finland is adapting to the circumstance.
“The Finnish government in particular has been working extremely closely with tourism representatives from Lapland to strike the fine balance between controlling the spread and allowing their vital tourism industry to operate safely,” he says.
The nature of the outdoor activities on offer in Lapland means that it’s simpler to keep a safe distance, while usually spending time only with those you’ve traveled to the nation with, he adds.
“We can’t ensure for sure that Father Christmas or his elves will won’t be wearing a mask,” says McLean.
“We believe after the incredible way everyone has adapted to the new normal of 2020, having a truly memorable, magical holiday to end the year will be incredibly rewarding — even with a couple of extra safety precautions.”
Simon Lynch, director of sales at Scott Dunn is similarly upbeat.
“The season ahead looks promising for Finnish and Swedish Lapland,” he says.
“We’re encouraged by the flurry of inquiries that we’ve had for both of these destinations, both from families who are seeking for that ultimate bucket-list trip over the festive period to see Santa and the reindeer, just as from couples who are looking to alternative winter destinations for a remote romantic getaway under the Northern Lights, where they may have recently selected a ski-centered winter trip somewhere else in Europe.”
It’s Santa On The Line
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 terrain Europe.
“With restrictions increasing throughout the UK, many of us have been wondering how we will keep the magic of Christmas 2020 alive,” says Santa’s Lapland CEO Paul Carter. “We intend to help make it one to remember, by offering families the chance to meet Santa from the comfort and safety of their own home.
“While no Christmas can compare to the sheer excitement of traveling out to Lapland to visit Santa in his snowy cabin, where the reindeer are genuine, 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 Beyond
Santa Lapland has already begun offering bookings for 2021 and says that many of its clients who lost out this year have simply rebooked for next Christmas.
Julie Kenyon from Lapland Experiences says this has become popular with those quick to have something to anticipate in a year’s 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 trips are not possible, the focus will shift to 2021 and I will be ensuring that all our 2020 clients are re-booked, and I’ll advise anyone interested to get their Lapland holiday booked as soon as possible for next year.”
In Rovaniemi, where even the city road plan is shaped like a reindeer, Sanna Kärkkäinen is additionally seeking 2021 for a boost.
“We are definitely looking positively into the next season and the next winter season, ’21/22. I think that will be the biggest aim now. Once the world is recovering, I think our development with tourism will be good again.”
For the present, saving Christmas depends on Finland keeping its new travel limitations set up and intrepid Santa fans to look past the Plexiglas and stump up for a pre-flight COVID test.
The time will tell if Christmas 2020 truly hasn’t been canceled.
This news is originally published on msn.com