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Thursday's papers: Election debate, Lapland booming, holiday travel

Most of the morning papers reported on last evening's televised debate in which all eight candidates in Finland's presidential election sat down together for the first time. Also in today's papers, reports on a tourism boom in Lapland, and travel arrangements for the upcoming holiday season.

Daily newspapers.
Image: E.D.Hawkins / Yle

The daily Helsingin Sanomat noted that Wednesday evening's presidential debate marked the first time that all the candidates have met in front of the public, and the paper describe the mood of the event as "livelier" than any discussion with candidates so far.

On stage were the current president, Sauli Niinistö, who is being backed by a voters' association, the conservative National Coalition and the Christian League, Pekka Haavisto of the Greens, the Social Democratic Party's Tuula Haatainen, Finns Party candidate Laura Huhtasaari, Merja Kyllönen of the Left Alliance, The Swedish People's Party's Nils Torvalds, the Centre Party's Matti Vanhanen, and the latest candidate to enter the race, Paavo Väyrynen who is running as an independent.

The reemergence of veteran politician Paavo Väyrynen was the focus of a good deal of post-debate media coverage.

One issue of the debate that caught the attention of the Helsingin Sanomat was an exchange mainly between Niinistö and Väyrynen about whether Finland is a "neutral" or a "militarily non-aligned" country.

According to the paper, if those terms are given the generally understood meaning, Väyrynen was wrong to use them as synonyms in describing Finland's international position.

As was expected in advance, Väyrynen immediately hit at President Niinistö, accusing him of usurping the powers of the cabinet by holding talks on Finnish defence policy with European decision makers.

Iltalehti described President Niinistö as "annoyed" when he responded that that he will discuss national affairs with any European leader he likes.

"If that is exceeding my powers, I will continue to do so," Niinistö shot back.

Debate moderators asked Finns Party candidate Laura Huhtasaari and the Centre's Matti Vanhanen in particular about how they view the appearance of Väyrynen once again on the list of presidential hopefuls. Väyrynen's well-known position as a eurosceptic and an advocate of tighter borders could undermine their own vote base.

Huhtasaari said Väyrynen is "warmly welcome" and that the two share many views that will "open the eyes of the people".

In contrast, Vanhanen's comment was less enthusiastic, saying that there is plenty of room for competitors.

Lapland booming

The economic and business daily Kauppalehti reports that tourism in Finnish Lapland is at an all-time high, the tourist season is longer than ever and the city of Rovaniemi looks to be headed towards over one million annual overnight guests by the year 2021. That projection does not include Airbnb guests who are making up an increasing share of visitors to Lapland

Right now, hotels are fully booked in Rovaniemi, and the high season now lasts from the beginning of November until the end of April.

There are concerns, however, that the travel industry can't keep up with the boom. The manager of Rovaniemi's Arctic Light hotel, Timo Kärki, told the paper that there are worries that the local airport, railway station and Arctic tourist sites will not be able to handle much more mass tourism.

Projections of a continuing upswing are based on the expectation of more tourists from China and other parts of Asia. This, Kauppalehti  notes, will require an expansion of air connections to Lapland, and more capacity to accommodate even more visitors.

Holiday travel time

The Metro freesheet today carries a reminder to readers that holiday travel seats on trains and planes are going fast and many departures for domestic destinations next week are already fully booked.

Holiday traffic is expected to peak on Friday and Saturday next week.

This year, the Finnish state railways VR will not be laying on an extended "super train" from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, as it did last year. However, VR will be scheduling more trains and more departures on the 23rd.

Around 80% of seats on trains for the 23rd have already been sold. The most heavily booked are connections between Helsinki and Oulu, Rovaniemi and Kemijärvi. During the Christmas and New Year’s season, VR expects to carry some half a million passengers.

Finnair's most popular domestic seasonal destinations are Ivalo, Kemi, Kittilä, Kuusamo, and Rovaniemi. The company reports that there are only a few seats left on flights to Rovaniemi, Kajaani, and Kuusamo.

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