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The battle for Christmas business hots up

Many of us will be spending another restricted Christmas trying not to infect friends and family with Covid. But in spite of the looming shadow of Omicron, more travel restrictions and lockdowns, many places are still trying to tempt travellers to spend Christmas with them.

One city making a special effort to position itself as a Christmas destination is Danish capital Copenhagen. The city has a major Christmas programme, run by the “Copenhagen City Center” association (KCC). This organisation argues that culture should play a key role in creating holistic experiences that support a vibrant city, which also means having a good commercial environment with a diverse and interesting range of culture, shops, restaurants and cafes. There are many facets to this Christmas placemaking initiative, including the usual Christmas market and Christmas lighting, but also more quirky elements such as a decorated kayak race.

Decorated kyaks take to the water on Saint Lucy's Day in Copenhagen (VisitCopenhagen)

The efforts of Copenhagen to attract visitors to enjoy the Christmas programme were also the subject of a recent analysis by Mikkel Noa Klein in the Danish travel trade magazine The original article is in Danish, of course, but you can also find an English translation here. Mikkel interviewed me, together with Matias Thuen Jørgensen from the Centre for Tourism Research at Roskilde University on the prospects of success for Copenhagen's bid to become Europe's Christmas Capital.

This was an interesting dicussion, because it also reminded me of a great paper by Michael Pretes on "The Santa Claus Industry", which analysed attempts by Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland to position itself as the home of Santa Claus. As Pretes explained, "An essential element of this strategy was convincing the rest of the world that Finland was the real home of Santa Claus--against rival claimants in Alaska, Sweden, Norway, and Greenland". The Finnish campaign had all the hallmarks of creative placemaking: the Christmas meaning of Lapland was established by a Finnish radio broadcast reporting that Santa's home had been discovered inside the Arctic Circle. Lapland of course already had lots of essential physical resources for Christmas - tons of snow. And it added a creative element by building a Santa Claus Village near Rovaniemi, straddling the Arctic Circle, and opening Santa Claus's

Post Office, a reindeer enclosure, Santa's Workshop, several restaurants,

and many gift and souvenir shops. The developers were also careful to trademark "Santa Claus Land" to make sure no other claimants could use that idea.

Essentially, by giving meaning to the Lapland location through storytelling, the creative addition of activities and attractions and the physical resource offered by guaranteed snow, Finland was able to establish itself as the home of Santa Claus. Cities like Copenhagen seeking to claim Christmas have a bit more of a challenge, as Mikkel Noa Klein's article points out, because countless cities now boast Christmas markets, and people in Santa outfits can be found wandering around everywhere - as a recent photo feature in the Guardian shows. I would argue that a lot of creativity is needed to ensure that, as in the case of Lapland, the basic resources of the place are given a Christmas meaning that will encourage people to visit.

Wonderful Copenhagen have certainly been trying to develop an effective placemaking strategy, including coming up with "8 reasons why Christmas in Copenhagen is extra magical". This is not quite in the same league as their classic "End of Tourism" campaign, but it does underline why Copenhagen can make a strong claim to Christmas Capital status.

Of course, for those cities without the resources or stamina to develop a strong Christmas marketing campaign, there are always short cuts. They could bid for the European Capital of Christmas title, for example. If you have never heard of this illustrious event, it is probably because previous winners have included such famous places as Majadahonda and Torrejón de Ardoz. Both located in the Province of Madrid, these small cities may have gained their nomination thanks to their political links with the Spanish organiser of the Christmas Cities network. But of course, any city can become a member of the network, for the platry sum of

€100/month for cities with populations of over 100,000, and €50/month for smaller cities. The signs are that this title is catching on, because the recently announced host cities for 2022 are Génova in Italy and Donostia / San Sebastián in Spain - both much established 'capitals' than previous title holders.

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