Tuesday September 21, 2021

Covid-19 affects Rovaniemi internationalization

Published : 30 Aug 2021, 23:08

  DF Report by Lisa Koenig

An exceptional calm in the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi during the coronavirus pandemic. DF Photo.

The maintenance of international connections by organizations has become a challenge during the Covid-19 pandemic. And the city of Rovaniemi, in Finland's north which has turned into an international city over the recent years, is faced with the same situation.

Tuula Rintala-Gardin, Director of International Relations at the City of Rovaniemi, said that the pandemic was a challenge for the internationalization process of the city of Rovaniemi.

“Development was going on well before the pandemic. The city has already been internationally measured by its small size,” Rintala-Gardin told the Daily Finland, adding that work with international organizations has been well affected.

Saying that internationalization is very important, she, however, hoped to overcome the situation after everything woud become normal.

“This crisis has, of course, changed everything. But I am hopeful that it is going to come back,” said Rintala-Gardin. “Being international is very important for us. It is a strategic choice we have made for our city.”

She also said that although work with international organizations had been seriously affected, it had not completely stopped. “We haven’t lost it. Everything went online and the connections are still there.”

Communications are now taking place virtually. “Many meetings were just to say: ‘Hello, we are still here.’ But slowly, cultural exchanges and business delegations are coming back,” she added.

Tourism is one important reason, according to Rintala-Gardin, why Rovaniemi is so international.

Before the pandemic, 65 percent of all tourists visiting Rovaniemi were coming from abroad.

“We also have a pretty diverse tourism. There is not just one big market area where our travellers come from”, Rintala-Gardin said.

In 2019, the biggest group of international tourists was the Chinese with only 12 percent and all of the top ten countries had a market share between 5 and 10 percent.

“This is very good for our city because tourism is a fragile business. If there are problems in one country, we can usually make compensation,” Rintala-Gardin said.

Even though the Santa Claus village is the flagship of the city’s tourism, many people also come for other reasons, she said.

“Now after the pandemic, we think that nature tourism will be more significant. In the winter, tourists come here for outdoor activities like snowmobiles, husky safaris or skiing and in the summer, they spend time around rivers or in forests,” she said.

The second trend that she sees now is that smaller destinations become more interesting for travelers.

“It is not just the big crowded places anymore. People want to be more local and feel comfortable. Of course, we don’t know how long that will last, but it now shows.”

Another important reason that makes Rovaniemi international is, Rintala-Gardin thinks, that educational institutions like the University of Lapland or the Lapland University for applied sciences attract many exchange students. Immigration is growing every year.

“Of course, Lapland as a whole has always been very international because we have borders with Sweden, Norway and Russia”, Rintala-Gardin said.

“It is in our history. I would say that Rovaniemi was born as a marketplace because the city is in the meeting point of two big rivers. People come and go and, therefore, the whole nature of the city is international,” she said.

She said that the country was opening gradually and movement within Europe began although Asian tourists would not be able to come.

She also thinks that it is good that direct air link between Rovaniemi and Paris will open in early December.