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Rovaniemi gets enormous media attention – a rare view of an invisible mover and shaker

5/16/2017 12:10 PM

Salla Tauriainen plays a significant role in how Rovaniemi is portrayed in the world's media.

Salla-web(3).jpgA Chinese reality show that was filmed in Rovaniemi last year, attracted an estimated 350 million viewers. Salla Tauriainen was responsible of the arrangements.

Do you know Salla Tauriainen? Probably not, but the world’s media do. Tauriainen’s job is to serve foreign media representatives in Rovaniemi, and there have been plenty of visitors in recent years.

Only recently, Rovaniemi has been covered by esteemed media outlets such as the New York Times, CNN, BBC, Reuters, Die Welt and the Financial Times. Tauriainen plays a significant role in how Rovaniemi is portrayed in the media. She, on the other hand, has learned to avoid the cameras.

“I always jump under some spruce, into a snowbank, so I’m not in shot,” she says.

Tauriainen works for Visit Rovaniemi, which coordinates travel marketing in the Rovaniemi region. The company operates out of downtown Rovaniemi with a team of eight permanent employees. Their premises are surprisingly small: a compact open office with a conference table and break room at one end.

Tauriainen is responsible for ensuring that foreign media get what they need from Rovaniemi. Last year, she and her colleagues handled over a hundred media visits involving 550 people. That figure rises to about a thousand if you include tour operators and other PR visitors.


Flexibility has paid off

When a media representative gets in touch to say they’re planning a trip to Rovaniemi, Tauriainen welcomes them. She makes a list of their hopes for the visit and starts planning an itinerary. She arranges transport, accommodation and food, and also arranges photo/video shoots and interviews with companies.

The more well-known the media outlet, the more likely it is that Tauriainen or one of her colleagues will personally meet their visitors at the airport and drop them off again at the end of their stay.

Tauriainen will often act as a guide during their trip and make sure that everything stays on schedule.

“If the media are not at Santa Claus’ house at nine am, we may lose our time there.”

Media outlets often don’t give much warning of their visits. Last year for example, a New York Times journalist called from London on Wednesday to say they’d be flying to Rovaniemi the following day. The day’s itinerary had to be ready in time.

“We can usually accommodate the media’s wishes. I usually tie myself in knots, as do the companies. We’re flexible,” Tauriainen says.

And flexibility has paid off, as the publicity that Rovaniemi has received can be seen in the continually growing number of tourists. At the end of last year, President Sauli Niinistö granted the City of Rovaniemi and Visit Rovaniemi an internationalisation award in recognition of their long-term marketing efforts in the interests of tourism.

“We were flattered and delighted. Recognition from the President was a reward for the entire Finnish travel business. We’re no longer dabbling in tourism – we’re running a significant industry,” says Tauriainen.

Many financial newspapers and journals have also taken an interest in Rovaniemi since the award.


Chinese media reach enormous audiences

Tauriainen is busiest between mid-November and Christmas, when media outlets from everywhere from Australia to Brazil want to run Christmas articles about Rovaniemi. Their visits usually last from one to several days, but some want to see more. For example, last year Armenia TV spent a whole week in Rovaniemi and the surrounding area.

In early December, there may be 7–10 media groups in the city at a time. During this period, Tauriainen will go to work at eight in the morning and leave late in the evening. She’s quite tired when she gets home.

“When you’re with your guests, you always have to be on the ball and maintain the hype. It’s quite draining when you do it intensively.”

However, her guests almost always leave satisfied, which gives Tauriainen the energy to keep going. She also knows how valuable these visits are to her hometown.

“We would never have the means to generate the kind of visibility we get via the media.”

Pieces run by the Chinese media in particular reach enormous audiences. For example, We are in love, a Chinese reality show that was filmed in Rovaniemi last year, attracted an estimated 350 million viewers.


Santa is number one 

So what appeals to the media in Rovaniemi? By far the most popular attraction is Santa Claus Village.

“Santa Claus is an important person, you just can’t get around that.  99.8 per cent of media visitors meet Santa, and this will continue to be a major reason for visiting Rovaniemi,” says Tauriainen 

She is aware that many Finns dismiss Santa’s value.

“I think it’s a pity. I believe in Santa Claus and hope that all the locals do as well. Santa Claus is the most valuable personal brand in the world and we have him here – it’s quite unbelievable!”

“Besides, believing in Santa Claus is believing in goodness,” she adds. 

“If you believe in Santa, you believe in goodwill and caring for others. Santa is all about gentleness and warmth, and you can feel it emanating from him when you meet him in person. If only we could all believe in such kindness.”

It says something about Santa’s appeal that you could meet almost any celebrity host in the main square of Santa Claus Village. Last year, one British blogger wrote about bumping into CCN’s star correspondent Richard Quest in Rovaniemi, when there would be no chance of meeting him anywhere else,” says Tauriainen.


Sometimes things don't go as planned

In addition to Santa, the media is interested in wintry experiences in nature, such as the Northern Lights, reindeer sleigh rides, huskies, snowmobiles and snowshoe walking. 

Unfortunately, nature doesn’t always play ball when the media is visiting: there are no Northern Lights and no snow on the trees – just lot of miserable slush. Or then the reindeer organise a surprise.

Last winter, a Chinese television company wanted a celebrity couple to meet Santa Claus on the ice of Lake Lehtojärvi. According to the script, the couple would arrive on a husky-drawn sled and enjoy a camp fire until Santa arrived on a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Tauriainen organised everything with local entrepreneurs. The reindeer entrepreneur chose a reindeer with exceptionally beautiful antlers. However, on the morning of the shoot, they noticed that the reindeer had dropped one of its antlers. They couldn’t use a one-antlered reindeer, and so had to find another.

A trickier situation occurred when an Irish reality TV show filmed a wintry video on Santavaara hill using a remote-controlled helicopter. After many hours of work, the white helicopter fell into the snowy landscape. The film crew spent several hours tramping through deep snowdrifts looking for the camera.

In the end, the guide thought of looking at the treetops and searching for one that had lost its snowy covering. They found one, and also the camera lying intact at its base.

“Anything can happen when you’re out in nature and working with animals. But luckily professionals can always find a solution to everything,” says Tauriainen.

The media is also interested in local daily life. A crew might want to film in K-Market or interview people outside the doors of Citymarket. They also find ice-hole swimming quite intriguing.

“Visitors often have the impression that all Finns are constantly swimming in the ice. I don’t tell them I’ve never tried it myself, even though I encourage them to give it a go,” says Tauriainen, laughing.


Rovaniemi has plenty to offer in the summer, as well

Now, in May, Rovaniemi’s travel professionals can finally take a breather. The winter season is behind them and the next high season is still half a year away. But there’s still plenty to do during the summer. Visit Rovaniemi wants to get the media interested in Rovaniemi’s summer and autumn’s Northern Lights season.

If you visit Rovaniemi in the summer, you could enjoy kayaking, river cruises, stand-up paddling, wooden saunas, visiting a reindeer farm – and, of course, saying hi to Santa Claus.

“We have a really broad range of activities on offer in the summer, but I have to admit that travellers are really afraid of the mosquitoes. But you can live with them and they don’t spread disease, so it’s basically a mental challenge.”

Listening to Tauriainen, you get the feeling that the mosquito challenge is beatable. But for how long will global media continue to be interested in Rovaniemi? Is it a just small window that we have to get the most out of? 

Tauriainen believes that, although some of the interest will wane, tourism will continue to grow. 

“As long as we have Santa Claus, we’ll get significant visibility and healthy tourism in Rovaniemi. Without Santa Claus, we’d have a great deal more work to do in many areas.”