Arctic towns make a killing on Santa Claus

ROVANIEMI, Finland, Dec 19, 2007 (AFP) – SantaSport, SantaFood, SantaPark, Hotel Santa Claus, Santa Hair Center: in the Finnish Arctic town of Rovaniemi Father Christmas is everywhere, milked to the max by local businesses. “Christmas tourism is a magnet for investments,” says Tuula Rintala-Gardin, the head of tourism for the municipality of Rovaniemi, a town of 60,000 people built on the geographical Arctic Circle.

Since 1927 Finnish legend has it that Santa Claus, or “Joulupukki” as he is known here, lives in a cabin atop the nearby Korvatunturi mountain.

But it was only in the mid-1980s that Rovaniemi launched itself as the home of the “real” Father Christmas.

The town has since fended off fierce competition from towns staking the same claim in Sweden, Norway, and Greenland, and appears to have emerged victorious.

Twenty years later, Santa now rakes in 235 million euros (345 million dollars) of direct and indirect revenue for the region of Lapland.

The windfall is crucial, as Rovaniemi suffers from high unemployment amid a population flight to more urban areas. People in the region live off the forestry and mining industries, reindeer herding and niche sectors such as Bombardier snowmobile produc