Santa’s homeland faces harsh winter as coronavirus keeps tourists away

Santa’s homeland faces harsh winter as coronavirus keeps tourists away

Between November and March, Finland’s far north usually throngs with international holidaymakers who come to experience a snowy wonderland of reindeer rides, ice castles and the “real” Santa’s grotto. But despite record visitor numbers in recent years, the coronavirus shutdown will leave many of Finnish Lapland’s tourism businesses facing ruin this winter. Many fear that government moves to ease travel restrictions in the Nordic country will not go far enough to offset the damage. “We’ll be bankrupt after December if we don’t get any bookings,” tour operator Sini Jin told AFP from Rovaniemi, an Arctic Circle town that markets itself as “the official hometown of Santa Claus”. Jin has run Nordic Unique Travels for five years, offering Northern Lights safaris and expeditions into the Arctic wilderness to thousands of travellers from Europe and Asia every season. “Now we’ve had one or two bookings a week, and mostly we’re just doing refunds,” Jin said. Her firm will only employ “two or three” seasonal staff this year instead of the normal 80. Jin’s company received emergency financial aid after the government put aside over a billion euros ($1.2 bn) to help businesses, but it has not been enough to compensate for the lack of tourists. “Everything we’ve worked for will be gone so quickly if we don’t get help.” Her predicament is shared by tourist companies across Finland’s vast Lapland region, where the sector supports 10,000 jobs and generates one billion euros of annual ...
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