REYKJAVIK, Iceland — In this land of the Viking sagas, they have a saying: Allt er
gott sem endar vel. We English-speakers share the proverb, which translates as “All’s
well that ends well.” As fate would have it, those words turned out to be a perfect riposte to the country’s double-whammy of crises a few years back.
Iceland’s spectacular 2008 economic collapse, followed by an aviation-disrupting
volcanic eruption in mid-2010, wreaked havoc on life in, and travel to, this tiny
North Atlantic island. But ultimately both crises proved a boon for Icelandic tourism
in terms of arrivals, receipts and international traveler mindshare.
Never, perhaps, has so much bad news, in so short a time,
done so much good.
“Let’s put it this way,” said Helgi Mar Bjorgvinsson, se-
nior vice president of marketing and sales at national flag
carrier Icelandair. “We do not want to go through another
crisis; they were very difficult to deal with. But we did think
at the time that at least they were putting Iceland on the
map. They certainly drew a lot of attention.”
At this year’s Mid-Atlantic Seminar and
Trade Show, held Feb. 2 to 5 here in Iceland’s
capital, tourism players from across Iceland’s
travel, tourism and hospitality industries
tended to agree with Bjorgvinsson that what
once looked a lot like lemons has indeed been
morphed into lemonade.
For example, the financial free-fall that
four years ago reduced most Icelanders’ earning power by a fourth might be over, but a
still-weak krona, the local currency, means
that “with current exchange rates, we’re a
better bargain for our U.S. guests,” according
to Gudjon Valberg, manager of upscale boutique redoubt 101 Hotel in Reykjavik. That, despite the fact
that rates at the hotel, one of the city’s top three properties,
barely dropped during the crises.
The annual Mid-Atlantic confab, which celebrated its
20th anniversary in 2012, brings together buyers, suppliers,
agents and media from the 31 markets in Iceland, Europe
and North America that Icelandair serves.
This year, 110 buyers from the U.S. attended. That’s about
a third fewer the number of American attendees at the 2010
show, held just over two months before famously unpronounceable volcano Eyjafjallajokull infamously erupted
that April, but it’s more than double the 51 who showed up
last year. In total, there were some 600 attendees in 2012, a
20% jump over attendance two years prior.
Notable U.S.-based attendees included representatives
of American Express- and Nexion-affiliated agencies and
agents, large tour operators such as Collette
Vacations and Scandinavia-specialist operators like Borton Overseas and Iceland Saga
The numbers for Icelandic tourism in general are even more encouraging. According
to Promote Iceland, the government body
tasked with tourism development and marketing, there’s been a 50% increase in arrivals
from the U.S. since the 2008 financial crisis.
“Some of that is due to an increase in
flights from the States, but for Iceland, that’s
huge,” said Inga Hlin Palsdottir, director of
marketing at Promote Iceland and its tourist
board subdivision, Visit Iceland.
The U.S. now accounts for the most visitors to Iceland,
having unseated the U.K. as the country’s top source market. Germany sends the third most vacationers.
In 2011, Iceland posted nearly 16% growth in foreign
arrivals, for a total of 566,000 visitors. That was a new record for the country, whose total population is only about
320,000. By comparison, worldwide growth in tourism for
the year was just 4.4% on average, according to the United
See ICELAND on Page 22
ICELAND HAS SEEN A
50% INCREASE IN U.S.
ARRIVALS SINCE THE
CRISIS, MAKING THE
U.S. THE COUNTRY’S
TOP SOURCE MARKET.