Ortus Christmas Blog: Views from Winter Wonderland (by Karen Björk Eyþórsdóttir)
The night of October 8th 2008 divided the Icelandic people and transformed the way we think and what we value. Since that fateful day, Iceland has been hated, pitied, admired and romanticized.
And, like many struggling countries throughout history, Iceland was eventually invaded. No, not by red-headed Vikings. Our conquerors came in the form of tourists. A million of them every year.
As it happens, Iceland is no longer struggling. Its recovery has been pretty remarkable and several economists give the tourist industry a large proportion of the credit.
It is difficult to say exactly what draws tourists to this isolated island in the North-Atlantic.
Is it the cold? Not likely. Is it the traditionally cured, stinking meat? Probably not. It certainly isn’t cheap beer because tourists find themselves paying London West End prices. But Iceland’s charming, thinly populated countryside with its lagoons and starlit skies is something definitely worth experiencing.
With well over a 1,000 registered hotels and more than 500 Airbnb accommodations (plus quite a few hipster-ones who are not registered) Iceland is filling up with bright-coated Brits and Chinese like never before. If you stroll around the downtown area you can spot a hotel under construction on every corner.
This build-up is creating thousands of jobs for us yet supply is still lagging behind demand.
Since the turn of the century the number of foreign tourists has more than tripled with the average yearly growth rate of 9.3%. The number even grew by some 20% per year between 2010 and 2014 and exceeded 1 million for the first time this year. The total number of foreign overnight stays in 2012 was 2,9 million which is a huge upswing since 10 years ago when the number was only 1.2 million. And just like the snow, it doesn’t show signs of stopping – so bring some corn for popping.
Last year, for the first time in history, tourism contributed more to the economy than the fishing industry – for a long time our most profitable industry.
Recreational activities are growing increasingly popular during all seasons. In excess of 70% of last year’s summer visitors went nature bating, around 35% went whale watching and 15% went on glacier trips. However, during wintertime the demand for guided tours is ascending rapidly due to Iceland’s publicity-fuelled campaign for the Northern Lights.
A friend of mine works at The Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s hottest tourist attraction – literally. Every now and then she gets questions such as “So, when are you going to turn on the Norhtern Lights?”. This makes locals roll their eyes because everyone knows that the Northern Lights are a result of collisions between gaseous particles with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere, right? Erhmm…
Trust me, if we could have them “turned on” all year around we would be wealthy kings by now.
Cheers and merry Christmas!