No Timeshares in Lapland Yet, but Elf Training is Going Strong
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
For everyone one who appreciates the traditional Yule stories of Father Christmas, you will be as fascinated to learn about tourism to the Arctic Circle and about the new Elf Academy in Rovaniemi, Finland, as I was.
I don’t pretend to know the verifiable details about the life of Santa Claus, St. Nickolas, Father Christmas, or Sinterklaas. I just accept that as long as I stay on the “Nice” list, there will be presents with my name on them under the Christmas tree and no lumps of coal in my stocking.
And while the exact location where Santa got his start, and the precise address where he resides today, are a little vague, the people of Lapland know that nowhere in the world is any closer to his home than the ice and snow of the Arctic Circle.
Officially, Lapland includes the northern parts of eastern Russia, as well as northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway, and there is Christmas-themed tourism in each of these countries. But it is Finland that attracts over a half million tourists each year, (a number that is steadily growing) who come solely for the purpose of getting a little closer to the magic of Christmas.
So what should one expect of a vacation to a place where the average temperature is 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and snow is rarely less than three feet deep? Apparently, the adventure begins with the elves.
Arrive in Kittilä on one of the flights that lands roughly every ten minutes from Britain or Ireland and you can expect to be greeted at the airport by elves dressed appropriately in red and green. Snowmobiles are the preferred form of travel as you make your way about the Christmas shops and the Christmas pageants. But activities include everything from skiing, to learning to drive huskies, reindeer safaris, hunting (hopefully not the reindeer), and cruising on icebreakers. Expect to dine on more figgy pudding and gingerbread than you ever imagined, as well as local Swedish specialties. And everywhere you go, expect to find elves.
The people of Lapland realize that tourism is critical to their economy. Training a new generation of elves in customer service is one of the best investments the region can make in itself. In Rovaniemi alone, over 500 people are employed as professional elves, certified by the Lapland Vocational College which runs the elf academy. Elf tasks include meet and greets, providing transportation, directing lost tourists, wrapping packages, answering Santa’s mail, and generally providing the “can do” answer to any need a tourist might have. Think of them as a concierge in a snowmobile, who happens to be trained in Arctic survival skills and reindeer herding.
A seasonal trip to the land of Christmas sounds like a way to create amazing memories. Taking your children or grandchildren to see the Northern Lights play across the winter sky seems far more memorable than the usual trip to see Santa at the mall. And for the times that Lapland doesn’t quite fit your vacation agenda, think about holiday themed fun right here in the US, when you vacation at a timeshare resort near Santa Claus, Indiana; Christmas, Florida (near Orlando); or North Pole, New York.