Santa Claus, out of the red, set to get more visitors

HELSINKI/ROVANIEMI, Finland (Reuters) - Santa Claus can expect a flood of visitors to his Lapland home in Finland over Christmas after a new owner cleared an outstanding tax bill, saving the company that runs him from bankruptcy.

A sharp drop in visitors from recession-hit Russia had suggested that Dianordia Oy, the company behind the Santa Claus Office attraction, might be forced out of business.

But since Lapland Safaris, which organizes reindeer and snowmobile safaris, stepped in with a share-buy and rescue package last August bookings to visit Santa have surged, suggesting a bumper season this Christmas, tourist officials said.

Around 80,000 visitors are expected to visit the office in Rovaniemi, which declares itself Santa’s official hometown, in the six week high season around Christmas, up from about 65,000 last year.

The attraction offers a chance to be photographed with Santa and is a central site of several Christmas-themed businesses in Rovaniemi. It had some 300,000 visitors overall last year and revenues of about 2 million euros ($2.18 million).

“It looks like the unpleasant incident turned into a boost and a very good season,” Sanna Karkkainen, managing director in Rovaniemi Tourism and Marketing, said.

“We lost some Russian travelers, something like 30 percent in total. But we managed to get new customers from Asia, for example from China, Singapore, Australia, and Japan.” The biggest European customers are Britons, Italians and French.

Lapland tourism is a rare bright spot in Finnish economy, which has contracted for three years in a row and is currently performing worse than any other euro zone country except Greece.

Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Attila Cser; Editing by Richard Balmforth