‘Ethically responsible’ tourism
Once known by the now obsolete term ‘Lapps’, the Sami are spread out across the northern parts of Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia's Kola Peninsula. Sami representatives accuse some tourism providers of pretending to be Sami when they are not, or selling products and tourist attractions portraying Sami people as magical and primitive.
Last year, the Sami Parliament issued guidelines for ‘ethically responsible’ behaviour from tour operators and visitors in order to preserve Sami culture.
Husky rides, among the most popular tourist attractions in Lapland, have also been singled out for criticism by the Sami community, which has herded reindeer across the area's vast fells and forests for over 3,000 years.
Sami representatives claim the dogs, which are not a native Lapland tradition, distress the reindeer which freely roam the forests.
The Sami also object to the growing number of ‘igloo’ hotels in the region, which are a nonLapland tradition borrowed from elsewhere in the Arctic. The parliament proposal says tourist providers build accommodation relevant to Lapland’s history, such as the Sami ‘goahti’ - a teepee-like wooden tent traditionally used by reindeer herders.
Other worldly Arctic landscapes
Every passing winter brings record visitors to Lapland including soaring numbers of Chinese, but also much-needed revenue.
Lapland's Regional Council says that tourism brought in € 1bn (US$1.1bn) to the region last year. Official statistics suggest that visitors from China spend over three times as much on average as holidaymakers from other countries.
Authorities in Rovaniemi, on the Arctic Circle, face a dilemma: How to reap the economic benefits, while preventing irreversible damage to one of the world's most vulnerable wilderness regions. "Dog-sledding and longer hikes are popular with French visitors for example, British travellers are especially interested in snowmobiles, and the Asian tourists are most keen on seeing the Northern Lights," Sanna Karkkainen, head of Visit Rovaniemi, tells AFP.
With his knee-length white beard, trademark red robes and oversize grey slippers, Santa switches from Finnish to French to chat to his next visitors, Celia and Jeremie from southern France.
After an official photograph, available to buy afterwards for € 45, the visitors are ushered towards the exit.
Every year this decade, the visitor figures to Lapland have reached new highs, hitting 2.9mn overnight stays last year, up from 2.2mn in 2010, according to Statistics Finland.
Some 45,000 Chinese tourists visited Lapland in 2018 - four times more than in 2015.
Booming tourism helped drive Rovaniemi's unemployment rate down to below ten per cent last December, its lowest since 1990 according to the town council.
However, the spectre of mass tourism is a growing concern in a region where residents
His voice all but drowned out by the howls of 120 black, white and brown huskies, Beets says his growing business caters to more and more