No snow in Lapland – what happens when weather affects travel?

Trips to see Santa in Lapland in northern Finland have grown in popularity in the last 10 years, with thousands flocking to the snowy north for a taste of a real winter wonderland.

Except this year there has been trouble because the snow is a no-show. Some trips are having to be cancelled as a result.

Visitors and operators are cancelling trips as lack of the white stuff means reduced chance of dog-sledding, reindeer sleigh-pulling and other wintry activities such as snow-shoeing. So, whose fault is it, and what do companies do when travel goes wrong?

If you’ve booked with an AITO-approved operator, you’re more likely to either get the trip moved, or in extreme circumstances some refund. Independent specialist tour operator Transun said to Travel Weekly that despite having operated in Lapland for 30 years, they’d never experienced rain like this in December before. They have several FAQs on their website dealing with weather, from the extremely cold to the unseasonably warm, and reserve the right to give refunds. Instead, they offer to rearrange trip dates, but for many that’s difficult at this time of year with Christmas activities booked in weeks in advance, such as school plays and excursions. They also try and ensure that snow-cannons do their best to recreate natural wintry conditions in Lapland. But if your trip is cancelled by the operator, you should get an alternative departure date or a refund.

However, if you booked yourself; flights with Easyjet and Airbnb, for example, it’s much harder to change things or get any money back. Travel insurance won’t cover this weather scenario, either. You’re basically relying on the good will of the tour operator to help you out. And most tour operators will do all they can to try and make amends. This means more work for them, but happier customers.

Though one poor family found out too late to prevent them telling their children an elaborate story about the magical trip to see Santa. As they’re teachers they couldn’t reschedule for the weekday offered and took a refund instead. But the disappointment levels are high. They’re seeking an alternative trip instead.

Specialist tour operators

It’s often best to book via tour operators for trips that could be affected by weather. However, if you go to Spain in summer and it rains, no-one will give you any money back. With global warming affecting weather patterns, it’s likely that companies’ cancellation policies will get stricter, or they could end up out of pocket.

On the ground in Lapland, snow cannons are being put into overdrive to create tracks to run snowmobiles, huskies and reindeer sleighs. But the relatively warm temperatures are causing a lot of problems, not least that snow being washed away by rain. It is reported that snow will start to fall from today, 4 December, in Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland and home of Santa Claus Village. But it may then be washed away by more rain. Some early trips in December have already been cancelled as the high temperatures meant it was impossible to make snow.

Most of the companies involved in these trips are going the extra mile to help their customers. Inghams cancelled passengers on its three-night Santa Breaks Yllas and Levi, last week, but is doing everything to try and rebook everyone. They told Travel Weekly that they had gathered an emergency team of 25 to sort everyone out over the weekend, and had arrived at 3am on Sunday to further assist clients.

So, do you just book and keep your fingers crossed? Our advice is to keep the days around the booking reasonably free, because the most likely result will be moving your trip to a time when the snow is predicted to fall.

And lastly, always book via a reputable AITO-affiliated operator, who will try and do their best to help if things go wrong.

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