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Santa Claus Office at Rovaniemi’s Santa Claus Village, Source: Visit Rovaniemi

Santa Claus Village – open, with precautions in place

Santa Claus Village – open, with precautions in place

The famous amusement park near Rovaniemi, Finland is experiencing a tourist slump due to the pandemic

With the countdown to Christmas underway, Santa Claus Village near Rovaniemi, Finland is eerily quiet. The world-famous amusement park saw an influx of over 500 000 tourists in 2019 alone. Many of the foreign guests came to Lapland’s capital on charter flights for short stays, eager to cross the Arctic Circle on dog sleds, enjoy the local food, visit the Reindeer and Husky Farm, do some shopping and, of course, meet Santa in person.

Double trouble

When the coronavirus reached Finland at the height of the winter season, Santa Claus Village had to close with all of its affiliated attractions in tow. The swift and no-nonsense handling of the pandemic earned Finland international praise, but fearing a relapse, the country was careful in reopening its borders. As a result, the foreign tourists are now gone and the occasional Santa Claus Village visitors are mostly Finnish families.  

The picture painted by foreign media outlets is strange but true. No chance for children to sit on Santa’s lap this year, as the Old Man keeps a safe distance, talking to them through a Plexiglas sheet to keep infection at bay. Santa’s elves wear face masks and maintain social distance, and hand sanitizers are as ubiquitous as Christmas lights. And, topping the weirdness list, there is a new “being good” requirement for kids to get presents. As Santa says, good children wash their hands regularly, keep a safe distance from others and do not cough on other people. 

Since 1985, Rovaniemi’s tourist brand has been “The official hometown of Santa Claus”. 10 percent of Lapland’s population works in tourism and another year lost to the pandemic will mean massive layoffs and closures, especially in tourism-dependent municipalities. State aid is considered vital for the sector to survive, but in the meantime, there are those who see the disaster just as a challenge to their creativity.

Virtual reality flights

From 25 December, Finnair, billed as Santa’s official airline, will offer eight VR ‘flights’ to transport families and children to Santa’s hometown. The immersive 360-degree experience is created by Finnish VR studio Zoan using Unreal Engine, a top-notch real-time 3D graphics tool.

Virtual tourists can enjoy a flight on their mobile devices which is just as good as sitting in Finnair’s Nordic Business Class. A VR headset will enhance the experience. After landing in Rovaniemi, customers will be able to cross the Arctic Circle and enter Santa’s cabin to meet Santa Claus himself.

Tickets are just EUR 10 per person, available from Finnair Shop. The lucky flyers can also donate to the less fortunate, with proceeds going to UNICEF’s work to cushion the pandemic’s impact on children around the world.

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