(CNN) – Santa Claus sits safely behind the plexiglass. Goblins maintain a safe social distance while wearing a surgical mask.
2020 is going to be a lot of festivities, but with a holiday like no any fast-approaching holiday season, Lapland’s travel operators believe it’s the best way to save on Christmas and save yourself after a dire year that has seen visitor numbers plummet from record highs in 2019.
“Christmas is definitely not canceled,” said Sanna Kärkkäinen, CEO of Visit Rovaniemi, Santa’s official hometown, on the Arctic Circle in Lapland, Finland.
“This year will be different from previous years, but I’m sure the last visitors here will of course enjoy it.”
Kärkkäinen says businesses in the region have been working steadily since the summer to get ready for the vacation, ensuring they follow the health and safety procedures in the mail.
“Together with the Lapland hospital complex, we have created a Covid safe travel model. It’s a vast network of travel providers and destinations in Lapland and everyone is involved. .
“We are very committed to operating that way and of course that is one of our signals to travelers that we are doing everything to make travel safe and secure.”
Not as you might think. To understand the heart of Finnish, Rovaniemi, step out of the city center and into the tranquility of the forest where the reindeer rule.
Just as Santa sitting behind plexiglass and his goblins wearing PPE, Kärkkäinen says that the lack of large groups and a focus on individual groups means Santa’s workshop visitors won’t find any inadequacies. Any problem in ensuring social exclusion.
“In a way, the lower numbers help us develop services to a level where we can really combine and combine medical measures with all services,” she said. that we offer.
Domestic tourists went north to meet Santa, with Kärkkäinen reporting that the experience was largely the same as in previous years.
However, Kärkkäinen is concerned that the strict quarantine time limit may cause some tourists to choose to stay away.
“Seventy-two hours is quite a short time for Lapland,” she said. “Usually they will be three to four days. Our aim is always for people to enjoy the area and the destination to the fullest, which means stays tend to be longer, of course.” means more sustainable trips. ”
Even so, operators tweaked schedules, crammed sleigh rides, a raucous experience, and a chance to see the aurora Arctic before bringing travelers back to the airport in time for a quick departure fast.
Alistair McLean, the chief executive officer of Artisan Travel, which operates private trips to the region, said he was impressed with how Finland adapted to the situation.
“The Finnish government in particular has been working extremely closely with tourism representatives from Lapland to strike a balance between controlling the spread and allowing their important tourism industry to run,” he said. safely.
The nature of the outdoor activities offered in Lapland means it’s easier to keep a safe distance, while usually just spending time with friends who have traveled with the country, he added.
“We can’t guarantee that Father Christmas or his goblins will not wear masks,” McLean said.
“We believe that after the amazing way people have adapted to the new normal rhythm of 2020, having a truly memorable, magical holiday at the end of the year will be incredibly rewarding – even if it does. add some safety precautions. “
Simon Lynch, sales manager for Scott Dunn, is similarly optimistic.
“The season ahead looks promising for Finnish and Swedish Lapland,” he said.
“We were encouraged by the series of questions we had for both of these destinations, both from families looking for the last list trip during the festival period to see Santa Claus and the reindeer. as well as from couples looking for alternative winter destinations for a distant romantic getaway under the Northern Lights, where they may have previously opted for a winter trip focused on skiing elsewhere in Europe. “
Meanwhile in Sweden
Meet the man who can let Santa ride a high flying sleigh.
Crossing the Swedish border, visitors from Schengen, EU and UK are not subject to quarantine rules. And the area’s isolated nature means you can enjoy a relatively safe vacation there, even if Santa actually lives in Finland.
Anna Skogh, from the Swedish Lapland Visitor Council, said: “We are a destination with large areas, many small and private accommodation and mostly outdoor activities for small or public groups. private company. “It is an advantage to adjust for a more socially different experience for the safety of visitors.
Even so, Skogh is not optimistic about the number of visitors.
Last year saw a record number of visitors to Lapland.
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP via Getty Images
“It doesn’t look good for this winter. Long-distance travelers can’t travel and travel restrictions for closer markets change week by week. Sweden’s Lapland is particularly affected because of them.” I am an international destination, especially in winter.
“The signs we’re getting are people are very interested in traveling here, but given the current circumstances, it’s a challenge to make that happen.”
She says there has been an increase in requests for direct charter flights to the region, reducing the need to change planes in Stockholm. However, with flight operators struggling, this remains a unlikely proposition for all of the richest winter lovers.
It’s Santa on the line
Christmas is a big business in Rovaniemi, Finland, but Santa isn’t the first to kick off tourism in this Arctic Circle city.
Some operators have decided that given the ever-changing context of travel restrictions, switching to a virtual approach is the way to go. After a year of video calling for work and family contact, it seems Santa should be on the screen instead of in person.
The UK-based festival specialist Santa’s Lapland is offering “Santa, Live from Lapland” video calls for £ 85 ($ 111) to a family with up to four children. The calls lasted 10 minutes and were chaired by a house-elf who took the family around Santa’s cabin before meeting the big man himself.
The company suspended 2020 trips due to increasingly stringent travel measures from the UK to the European continent.
Santa’s Lapland CEO Paul Carter said: “With the growing restrictions across the UK, many of us wondered how we would keep the magic of Christmas 2020 alive. in”. “We intend to help make it a memorable one, by offering families the chance to meet Santa in the comfort and safety of their own home.
“Although no Christmas can ever compare to the sheer excitement of traveling to Lapland to see Santa in his snowy house where the reindeer are real and the tops are. Arctic lights dance in the night sky. Families will still be able to enjoy a taste of real Lapland Magic this Christmas. “
Looking forward to 2021 and beyond
Many tourists postpone their trip to Lapland until 2021.
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP via Getty Images
Santa’s Lapland started offering reservations for 2021 and says many customers who lost their stock this year have simply reset for Christmas next year.
Julie Kenyon from Lapland Experiences says this has become popular with people who want something to look forward to in 12 months.
“Some of our tour operator partners have completely halted their Santa 2020 program and moved most of their clients to 2021. Hence, for those wishing to visit Lapland in December 2021, it is important to book now as demand will be very high next year. I have moved clients to 2021 and the location is limited for this type of trip.
“If the 2020 trips cannot be done, the focus will be on 2021, and I will make sure all of our 2020 clients are re-booked and I would recommend anyone who is interested. should book vacation in Lapland as soon as possible for next year. “
In Rovaniemi, where even the city’s street planning is shaped like a reindeer, Sanna Kärkkäinen is also looking for a boost until 2021.
“We are definitely looking positively next season and next winter, ’21 / 22. I think that will be the biggest goal right now. Once the world is recovering, I think growth with our travel looks good again. “
For now, however, the Christmas savings depend on Finland maintaining their new travel restrictions and brave Santa fans looking through the glass and preparing for a Covid test. before flight.
Only time will tell if Christmas 2020 really won’t be canceled.