Santa Claus is expecting to welcome some 120,000 visitors from around the world in Finnish Lapland above the Arctic Circle this holiday season, the local tourism office said on Monday.
Hordes of tourists are due to start arriving in the far north this weekend to take in the winter wonderland's pristine nature, as well as Santa's workshops, reindeer, dogsledding tours and the northern lights, Tuula Rintala Gardin of the Rovaniemi tourism office told AFP.
The tourists hail primarily from Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Russia and Japan, arriving on regular flights, chartered trains and some 580 organised tours.
In the small town of Rovaniemi, where the airport is built on the Arctic Circle and which claims to be the 'official'home of Father Christmas, some 50,000 tourists and 249 charter flights are expected.
Winter tourism in Finnish Lapland has skyrocketed in the past decade thanks to Santa Claus' Village in Rovaniemi, which has become known around the world as the 'real' home of the man in the red suit -- to the detriment of Greenland, Sweden and Norway which also make similar claims.
Tourism is now one of the primary sources of income for the region, totalling 144 million euros (214 million dollars) in 2006, as locals flee to urban areas amid 15 percent unemployment.
But Rovaniemi is now facing stiff competition from Enontekioe, a small town of 2,000 people located 200 kilometers (125 miles) to the north that now says it is the real home of Father Christmas, staking its claim with the help of a British tour operator.
Enontekioe is due to welcome about 10,000 tourists this holiday season, many of whom will stay only a few hours. The British tour operator offers a one-day return flight from 12 airports in Britain.