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Park Profile

Santa Park B

How do you “own” Christmas? It's perhaps the one of the ultimate intellectual properties, and one with which several attraction operators have enjoyed success in recent years. Although you can't officially license Christmas, a family-owned park in Finland has done the next big thing and as well as operating its own successful operation in the city of Rovaniemi now sends Santas all over the world each winter. Here chief experience officer Ilkka Lankinen, who together with his wife Katja Ikäheimo- Länkinen – both pictured below – has been delivering Christmas experiences in the Arctic Circle since 1997, explains the Santa Park recipe for success

ack in 1970, my father-in-law (Antero Ikäheimo) had the idea of having a Father Christmas theme park here in Rovaniemi – the capital of Lapland on the

edge of the Arctic Circle – and he was probably ahead of his time by about 50 years. In 1980 he opened a fantasy cavern on the hillside, together with an arctic animal zoo and the world's largest ice castle, which was built from scratch each year. Santa Park was opened in 1998, when the first ever

course for Santa's helpers was introduced. The first year after that course, I was working alone helping Santa then the next year there were two of us, then three; it just kept growing. Then Katja came along and and in 2009 we bought the majority of shares in the park and have been steadily expanding the services and experiences we offer ever since. We now have 110 Santa's helpers in our team and

employ 200 people in the high season, with 20 full time staff working with us around the year. Before being a Santa's helper I was working in politics, but you know it still involved talking to people and taking care of things so it's not that different really; it's all hospitality of a kind. With around 70,000 guests in high season between the middle of November and early January, and 100,000 annually, we are the largest Santa park in the world. Being in Lapland makes a difference, and we get visitors from all over the world who like to come and see Father Christmas in his “real” home. The area's association with Christmas and tourism goes back to 1950. After the Second World War, Finland received Marhsall Plan aid and President Roosevelt announced that he would like to come and see Rovaniemi. The mayor of Rovaniemi told the mayor of Helsinki that there was nothing to see, but we have the Arctic Circle so will show them that. The legend goes that just as the VIPs were arriving at the front door, the carpenters left from the back door. But that simple bit of theming was the start of travel and tourism in Rovaniemi.

Underneath the Arctic Circle We are part of a wider cluster of attractions called Santa Claus Village, within which there are over 50 different


The Finnish attraction that made Christmas its own

companies, but we are one of the largest. Santa Park is the only place in the world where you can cross underneath the Arctic Circle. You approach the park via a long underground tunnel. We have attractions including an Elf School, where young guests get a diploma, Elf Workshop, Elves' Post Office, Mrs Gingerbread's School, Ice Gallery and Ice Bar, a Christmas show that is peformed up to three time daily, and of course a meet-and-greet with Santa Claus. We have just refurbished the train and track inside our Magic Sleigh Ride. It's been a significant investment but it is one of the main attractions of the park and so it has to work. We now have six new carriages by GEL Rides (Garmendale Engineering) from the UK. They look like sleighs and are really nice. The old ride system was 20 years old so was time to renew it. I have to say that GEL were a great partner, the schedule was really tight, but they finished 12 days early, which was fantastic. We also have the Angry Birds Activity Area by Lappset,

who are local company. We also partner with them on the play areas for our overseas projects, but we chose Angry Birds because it is a very popular Finnish brand. Maybe in a few years we might change it because we went to develop more outdoor attractions for the closed season, but so far it's been a great success and almost doubled the time guests spend in the park. One of the other things that really works is free WiFi, so the kids go and play while their parents have a cup of coffee and check their e-mail. The Santa experience, in Santa's Office, is included for all guests and there is a gift for every child. We don't deny the guests the opportunity to take their own pictures because they have already paid the park admission price. In Santa's Village they say it is free, but they will try to sell you a photo for €30/40, whatever it is. We actually encourage people to take as many photos as they want with Santa, and we get good feedback on that.

Exporting Christmas In 2009, we registered the official Santa Claus of Finland trademark. We have the Santa's Helpers Association quality mark, and have several training sessions a year. We also sent a lot of Santas abroad and have developed the 'Little Christmas' concept, where existing amusement park can


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