Lapland tourism to lose over 60% of winter business says Finnish survey

An intersection in Inari, a village in Finnish Lapland, with directions to different tourist services and attractions. International tourism is key to the area’s economy but the current pandemic has led to deep losses as foreign travellers cancel bookings. (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)
Roughly half of firms said that domestic tourism would not help cover losses caused by the absence of overseas visitors.

A majority of Lapland tourism industry operators say that reservations booked by overseas tourists have collapsed during the past four weeks. According to a survey by the Finnish Lapland Tourist Board (LME), more than 60 percent of Christmas season reservations for trips to the region have been cancelled.

“After decisions made in September, a wave of cancellations began and it has accelerated in recent weeks,” LME chair Pertti Yliniemi said, referring to test and quarantine protocols required for overseas visitors to Finland.

The situation is especially difficult for tourism firms that rely predominantly on foreign tourists for business. One such company is Arctic Snowhotel and Glass Igloos in Lehtojärvi, Rovaniemi.

“Ninety-five to 98 percent of our customers are from abroad. This will be awful but we don’t really know just how terrible it will be,” proprietor Ville Haavikko noted.

Haavikko said that he expected turnover this winter to be between 75 and 85 percent lower than last season. During a regular winter the firm would employ 55 people, but this year the payroll will be considerably smaller, he added.

“We’ll probably manage with 15 [people].”

Domestic tourism won’t save season

Roughly half of the 160 entrepreneurs who responded to the survey by the Lapland Chamber of Commerce and LME said that domestic tourists would not help cover the losses caused by the absence of overseas visitors. This figure is up from one third of businesses who responded in a similar fashion to a survey in August.

Two-thirds said that they expected that revenues would plummet by at least 50 percent, while 60 percent said they would not be able to ride out the winter season.

“If we continue this way, then we are likely talking about losses of half a billion euros, which is a huge sum. In a way it is already lost,” tourism operator Yliniemi added.

Haavikko was one of the 40 percent of entrepreneurs who believed they could survive the coming winter by managing risks. He said that businesses in the region has seen continuous growth for years and as a result had made risky investments.

“Now we are seeing those risks crystallising,” he noted.

However he said that the slowdown in business did offer some advantages, such as the room to spend more time on hobbies and family life.

New travel policies expected

Tourism operators are currently awaiting new guidelines on travel restrictions from government. The head of the tourist board said that Finnair and other airlines have a key role in tourism in the north, as 70 percent of foreign visitors arrive via regularly scheduled flights, while 30 percent are charter flight passengers.

“Scheduled flights are essential for us, because if you can’t get to Helsinki, you can’t get to Lapland either,” Ylieniemi noted.

Government had previously announced a double-test-and-quarantine model, but that was quashed by Parliament’s Constitutional Law Committee.

According to information obtained by Yle, a possible new approach would allow visitors staying in Finland for at most three days to enter the country with a negative coronavirus test performed before departure.

Visitors planning to stay for more than three days but a maximum of seven days would have to undergo a second test while in Finland. Government is expected to disclose a decision-in-principle on the revised rules very soon.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Health board in Inuit region of Arctic Quebec launches interactive COVID-19 map and alert system for Nunavik, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finland reinstates border restrictions with Sweden and Estonia due to COVID-19, Yle News

Greenland: Greenland’s new executive order on COVID-19 comes into effect September 30, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland tightens up COVID-19 rules and increases social distancing rule to two metres across the country, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sweden seeks new powers to limit movement during pandemic, Radio Sweden

United States: After early containment success, there’s now rapid COVID-19 spread in rural Alaska, including the Arctic, Alaska Public Media

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