OPINION | Like most countries around the world, Iceland is now preparing for a big drop in tourism in coming months and years. Tourism has over the last 10 years become Iceland’s largest trade and our top source of national income, so we stand to lose a lot if things go as most experts have predicted. In my opinion however, this outbreak need not be the big setback predicted, at least not for Iceland’s travel sector. It might actually go the other way.
Whole generations of people who have never before experienced crisis are eager to explore the world again, with newfound appreciation. The World Tourism Organization has adopted the slogan ‘Stay home today, so you can travel tomorrow’. People are curious and we will travel again once this is over but this crisis might actually affect where people want to go.
People will want to go somewhere fairly remote. People will want to avoid the big crowds. People will want to spend more time exploring and less time traveling. That means fewer flights, and longer stays. These will all be strong points for selecting Iceland as a destination. But Iceland needs to be ready for this.
A lot of the infrastructure is already in place but our marketing tactics need to be redefined. Today, the vast majority of our visitors go to the same 20 spots. Some of our tourist spots have become overcrowded, while large parts of the country see few or no travelers. This is in part because of action and inaction by the government, but mainly because of how travel agents and tour operator promote the country. The need to change this has been expressed for years, but action is now vital.
Iceland is one of the cleanest countries in the world. We have a lot of unspoiled nature, that can be explored, but at the same time needs to be protected. We have a lot to offer when it comes to remote and slow tourism, using the whole country and all the seasons of the year. But if we want to build a sustainable travel sector in a post-covid world, we need to use these next few weeks to catch up on our homework, literally. When the rest of the world is ready to travel, we need to be ready to welcome them, using the whole of our resources.
Let’s make it a priority to identify 100 potential travel spots around the island that have seen less than 3% of our annual visitors in the last 10 years but have the potential to attract more visitors in the coming years. Pictured with this article is the Arctic Henge in Raufarhöfn, a place that has all the potential but falls right into this less than 3% category, strange as it may seem. Iceland has an abundance of these spots, natural and man made wonders that could easily make any top 10 lists in the world, with the right story and the right marketing.
We have hundreds of waterfalls, many of them more stunning than the Gullfoss on the Golden Circle. We have incredible beaches all around the island, many of which as dramatic as the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach. We even have another wrecked airplane up north, if Justin Bieber feels like doing a new video here in Iceland. Making these places into destinations is all about how we craft and tell their stories. Offering the remote, the desolate and the pristine, will be what sets us apart in the months to come.