NHTV develops storyline for Santa’s Office in Lapland

When you think of Lapland, you think of the beautiful scenic and pure landscape where people can take part in many recreational activities such as snow-scooter riding and dog sledding, and of course, you think of Santa Claus! Ever since the 1980s, the city of Rovaniemi (situated on the arctic circle in Lapland) has been known as the home of Santa Claus. Santa’s Office has meanwhile become a major tourist attraction. NHTV, as a knowledge institute in the fields of hospitality, tourism and leisure and with broad experience in storytelling, was asked to develop a new concept for Santa’s Office.

Santa’s Office once started as a small-scale initiative, where visitors of Lapland could meet the real Santa and had their pictures taken with Santa and some of his elves. Meanwhile, Santa’s Office has been embraced by the Finnish Tourist Board and with the ever-increasing numbers of tourists (particularly from China), they have been facing difficulties in recent years in terms of holding on to their core values of ‘authenticity’, ‘giving and caring’, ‘surprising and creative’. NHTV’s partner university in Finland, Haaga-Helia, had already been asked to come up with a new concept, but they called in the help of NHTV to develop the narrative stories and detail out storylines.

Preliminary study

In the past year, two NHTV professors (Xander Lub and Moniek Hover) and three NHTV lecturers (Geoff Maree, Frank Ouwens and Vincent Neveu) in the field of storytelling and hospitality developed the new storylines. As a starting point, current visitor experiences were studied and stakeholder expectations were identified. This produced 5 ‘Santa-related’ themes (time, unique place, memories/nostalgia, mystery, the concept of giving). These themes were combined into one core narrative concept for the visitor journey in Santa’s Office.

Santa’s Time

‘The whole visit revolves around the magical moment when visitors actually get to meet Santa. This is a great moment to many of them. Marriage proposals are even made in Santa’s Office. The suspense in this storyline is logically built up and released,’ explains Xander Lub, professor in Hospitality Experiences at NHTV.  

For instance, visitors coming through the entrance find themselves in a different wintery world from a different time; Santa’s Time, referring to Santa as a magical timekeeper who is able to slow down and speed up the clock, all to create that magical Christmas feeling. Visitors are then taken along mysterious places such as the factory where the Elves are busy working with toys and presents (play time). There is also room to reflect on one’s own memories (me time). ‘Santa also has a kind of guru role to some people, a real father figure,’ Xander Lub explains. Afterwards, visitors can share their experiences with other people by purchasing their Santa photo and presents. And by sending ‘old-fashioned’ postcards, which turned out to be quite popular, surprisingly enough (sharing time). 

‘All this ultimately leads to a more meaningful and magical experience, improved visitor flows, and of course, increased revenues.’  

The new concept was enthusiastically received and was worked out in more detail, with the various parties involved, in a series of workshops at Efteling and NHTV. The redesign of Santa’s Office in Rovaniemi will be carried out in several phases over the coming time.