Finland of Santa Claus: Rovaniemi, a globally recognised destination – promoted in Asia

– Now aiming also at increased midnight sun tourism

There is at least one place on this planet that people wonder – when coming across it for the very first time – if it is for real. And this is also the place where Christmas is celebrated every day of the year. How about that for a dream-come-true Christmas-lover destination! That place is called Rovaniemi, situated in Finnish Lapland, a place with long winters and lots of snow, but also endless daylight during the summer, and with its own international airport drawing in heaps of visitors from around world! And this is now Finland’s second most visited place after the capital of Helsinki. Unsurprisingly, Rovaniemi is at the annual travel show ITB Asia a magnet that draws in many visitors and lots of sales, via its own booth showcasing fantastic visuals, including of the Santa Claus village! ScandAsia talked to some of the Rovaniemi stakeholders there – to learn more about the appeal of the home of Santa and the attractiveness of the Aurora Borealis natural phenomenon as well as the midnight sun.

Already back in 2011 tourist operators from the ‘Capital of Lapland’ – Rovaniemi – exhibited at ITB Asia (the region’s leading B2B travel trade show) in Singapore for the very first time, and since 2016 this city of Santa has also participated with an own booth (and where ten Finnish businesses attended in 2023). Such a long-lasting marketing and sales effort points to that it must have been giving good results!

Managing Director Sanna Kärkkäinen, Visit Rovaniemi
Managing Director Sanna Kärkkäinen, Visit Rovaniemi

“The first representatives of Rovaniemi participating in the fair found it very successful and they established the foothold here for our tourism businesses. And they are still around, and have thus done a tremendous job of opening the up Asian market, creating such beautiful possibilities for everyone else from our Lapland destination,” explained Managing Director Sanna Kärkkäinen at Visit Rovaniemi. The city, above the Arctic Circle, is known for being the official home town of Santa Claus, and for viewing the Northern Lights.

“And we have our own booth since 2016, because we had grown so big that basically we couldn’t fit it in anymore to the ‘Visit Finland’ pavilion – that is also full of lovely suppliers. We are a recognised, well established destination for Singaporeans travelling to Lapland and thought: ‘Why should not Rovaniemi businesses have their own stand?’ And this investment has really served us well.”

“The Asia-Pacific area is important, where we have such a good catchment area through the fair from Australians, Indian people and of course Far East Asia. So once we’ve entered here it’s very hard to leave,” she continued.

A recognised destination by now, their presence still draws a lot of new attention during the Singapore travel show: “Many by-passers get amazed by the destination. They stop, looking surprised, in front of us and utter: ‘Is this destination for real, does it really exist!?’ It looks like in fantasy?!’ Then we have the possibility to charm them and tell about all our beautiful hotels and the tours and the services that we provide. But it’s a surprise for some people that there is a place like this for real, and I can understand them. They look at the visuals and the Santa’s magic – which is very different and unique among other kind of destinations and exhibition booths.”

Global bucket list tourist destination

Santas Hotels were among those first businesses to come to ITB Asia, in 2023 represented by Eveliina Korhonen.

“My predecessor has really been establishing the Singaporean- and the Asian market so I’m proud to continue that tradition of having strong partnerships in Asia for our hotel chain, because more than 70% of our customers are international,” she told ScandAsia.

“We have established great local partner that feed us with good customers from different markets in Southeast Asia. Before the pandemic China and Japan were also very strong and Australia is very good market as well.”

“The majority of tourists really are from a very global market, with around 130 different nationalities visiting Rovaniemi over the Christmas period. The majority come via our airport that is well connected to the world for the winter season, with 23 direct flight routes from around Europe and Turkey,” informed Sanna.

‘Visit Rovaniemi has done a really great job in negotiating the flight connections and supplying them for us all running businesses in Rovaniemi area, so it’s a great achievement for sure!” said Kaisa Heiskari, Marketing Director at Apukka Resort.

Eveliina Korhonen, at ITB Asia in 2023, then representing Santas Hotels
Eveliina Korhonen, at ITB Asia in 2023, then representing Santas Hotels

The success in growing the tourism business has in fact made Rovaniemi the second most international destination in Finland after Helsinki!

“And we really are forerunners in the Finnish tourism industry, where we want to lead the way for other parts of Finland as well and show what a wonderful country we have,” said marketing consultant Ulla Pirkola who was in Singapore together with Hotel Manager Juhani Ikonen from Santa Claus Holiday Village (159 rooms).

“Singapore and the Asian market is really big for our Rovaniemi hotel, so this is one of the main events for us,” shared Juhani who personally attended for the first time.

“We have one of the bucket list destinations in the world at the moment where everybody wants to come to see Santa Claus,” he commented on Finland’s biggest tourist attraction.

“It’s wonderful to be in Singapore and we’re so happy that more and more people from Asia are coming to Rovaniemi!” thought Ulla.

“Ours is very special in the sense that we’re not a typical hotel but offer cottages, which consist in very traditional Finnish red cottages. And all of our rooms have their own sauna – something very Finnish that we of course want to offer to all our guests when they come to Finland.”

All cottages also have their own Christmas tree throughout the year and at the village Santa Claus can be booked every day of the year to come – in person – to guests’ hotel rooms to distribute gifts for the kids and take videos and pictures.

Northern lights igloos

Kaisa Heiskari from Apukka Resort
Kaisa Heiskari from Apukka Resort

Kaisa Heiskari from Apukka Resort attended ITB Asia for the first time and had a positive experience: “We had great meetings with strong interest to start collaboration and sales. People just walked into this stand and really loved what they saw.”

“We have Santa Claus, we’ve got winter, and the Northern lights – so people really want to visit us. We have all the in-demand activities in our resort, offering husky-, reindeer-, and horse tours, snowmobiling, ice fishing, snowshoeing – whatever you can imagine to do in snowy landscapes!”

“People who travel to Rovanievi truly want to do the activities; they want to experience many things in nature so it’s really increasing the business in the area too,” she added.

At Apukka they have grown to 100 glass igloos and six additional accommodation units, open during the autumn and winter, but now aiming at year round operations.

“The glass igloo is a different type of cabin with a glass roof, so you can lie on the bed and just watch to the sky: you can see the starry or snowy sky or if you are lucky the northern lights directly from your bed. People love them; basically it’s something unique that you can experience the nature inside of the igloo,” explained Kaisa.

At Santa’s Hotels (with nine properties in six different destinations) they even include a Northern Lights alarm in their Rovaniemi glass igloos so that guests do not need worry about missing out on the “show”, informed Eveliina.

The company behind Santa’s Hotels celebrated 50 years in business in 2023 and with 30 years in hospitality. They also launched a brand new design hotel called Santa’s Hotel Rakka (in Kilpisjärvi), which offers to combine with a visit to Tromsø in Norway. The new hotel has one of their specialties: panoramic window walls, enhancing a feeling of having checked into nature.

“We don’t have full-blown Christmas decorations in all the hotels – it’s rather that we want to bring the Christmas spirit around the whole year it in all our properties, with friendliness and that cosy, warm feeling that you can have on a Christmas morning. But of course that we have a lot of elves everywhere that you will see when you come to our hotels. And of course we have a Christmas tree around the year in all of the hotels,” explained Eveliina.

Visit Rovaniemi at ITB Asia
Visit Rovaniemi at ITB Asia

Focus on summer and the midnight sun

“We have Christmas every day of the year so it doesn’t differ that much between the Christmas period and the rest of the year, but during summertime we offer midnight sun activities. Our goal for now is to grow the summer market and get people to also come in the autumn time to make the season longer. In September you can also already see the Aurora Borealis, so that’s a growing market at the moment,” said hotel manager Juhani.

“I think that the Northern lights is actually super beautiful into autumn time, when you can see the reflection from the lakes – unlike in the winter time. And also we have space in our hotels during summer and autumn time because for the winter time you really have to make your booking very early!” added Ulla Pirkola.

Kaisa Heiskari informed that Apukka Resort (also expanding its business) will also enter into year round operations in 2024.

“Rovaniemi is well known for its winter travelling but we focus also on summertime. We’re starting with fishing vacations, offering all-inclusive holidays for in international travellers. Then we take them to different fishing destinations in Lapland to experience rivers, lakes and also the Arctic Sea in northern Norway.”

“The main focus area is now to build a stronger summer season to balance out the peak winter period, because currently – after it – there’s a super quiet time, with the summer being a very domestic season for Rovaniemi. And it should be more international so that we could keep our workers in the trade by growing the tourism revenue to be more stable all year round. So that’s our biggest aim and we are working towards that,” said Sanna Kärkkäinen at Visit Rovaniemi.

 Hotel Manager Juhani Ikonen from Santa Claus Holiday Village, with marketing consultant Ulla Pirkola
Hotel Manager Juhani Ikonen from Santa Claus Holiday Village, with marketing consultant Ulla Pirkola

Growing demand in Santa town

For high season, meanwhile, the demand is so high that the city is all the time in the search of new investments for accommodation and also some service providers. “We need more players for that, but the biggest demand is on the hotel side, in particular for exclusive accommodation. We are now happy to hear more news from our supplies that they’re going to add services and invest more,” continued Sanna and added: “We need to be considerate also to be more environmentally conscious. And we participate in all the different projects to make it more sustainable and more responsible, such as with the airlines.”

As for the claim on Santa Claus Rovaniemi is certainly in pole position. “There might be some others who lay the claim on Santa Claus but they don’t know the truth – of course Santa Claus lives in a place called Korvatunturi [‘Ear Fell’] somewhere secret in Finland. But he has his office in the Santa Claus village where all the people of the world can meet him every day,” responded Ulla.

“Santa Claus can be met every day in Rovaniemi, so that’s something no one else has in the world – that you can come there and meet him every day and that’s it,” laughed Kaisa.

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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