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Iceland Tourism Prepares for a Comeback



In a normal October, the Radisson BLU Saga Hotel in Reykjavik would be buzzing with tourists hoping for a glimpse of the Northern Lights, business travelers in town for trade fairs, honeymooners gearing up for a tour of Iceland’s waterfalls and geothermal spas. This year, of course, things are very different.

“It’s surreal,” said Ingibjorg Olafsdottir, the hotel’s general manager. “It’s completely quiet.”

Since March, even with government support, Ms. Olafsdottir’s staff has shrunk from 140 to just 16. The hotel, which has more than 200 rooms, normally has an occupancy rate of above 75 percent, but it fell to 11 percent in September.

“It’s been emotional,” Ms. Olafsdottir said, adding that, even after cutting down to bare-bones operations, the hotel continues to rack up debt. “But the thing is, I think everybody is in the same boat here.”

Tourism is undergoing an unprecedented downturn all over the world, but several factors make Iceland particularly vulnerable to the industry’s crash: geographic isolation, a small domestic population, strict border measures and an economy that — after an extraordinary, decade-long tourism boom — had come to depend heavily on foreign tourists. A recent surge in coronavirus cases has added to Iceland’s challenges.

But while visitor numbers are low, Iceland is positioning itself for a major tourism rebound after the pandemic. The government is investing more than $12 million in tourism infrastructure, while improving roads and harbors across the country. To keep the tourism industry afloat in the short term, the government is also investing more than $9 million in a program that distributes free travel vouchers to Icelandic citizens and residents. A marketing campaign targeting domestic tourists was rolled out in the late spring; an international version will be unveiled as soon as travel restrictions are lifted.

The government hopes that when people go to book their first post-pandemic flights overseas, Iceland will be at the top of their list.

A lack of tourists was the last thing that Icelanders were worrying about in 2018, when the country welcomed a record-breaking 2.3 million visitors — more than six times Iceland’s population.

It was the height of a tourism boom that most observers trace to 2008, when a steep drop in the value of the Icelandic krona — which was linked to the economic crisis that hit the country that year — suddenly made Iceland much more affordable to outsiders. Then in April 2010, the cloud of ash from the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano forced the temporary closure of a large swath of European airspace — and put Iceland into headlines around the world. The government had rolled out the “Inspired by Iceland” marketing campaign just a few weeks after the eruption hit the news, and what started as a travel nuisance turned into a giant publicity boon.

Tourism took off. Visitor numbers rose from 459,000 in 2010 to more than 2.3 million in 2018. Economically, tourism came to account for 8.6 percent of gross domestic product and 39 percent of the country’s total export revenue. Roughly 30,000 people — nearly 16 percent of Iceland’s work force — were employed in the tourism industry in 2018.

Signs of tourism’s impact began cropping up in Reykjavik: Dunkin’ Donuts appeared in 2015 (all locations have since closed); a Hard Rock Cafe opened the following year; H&M arrived in 2017. In the countryside, sites that had once welcomed a handful of visitors were full of tour groups. Many tourists were seen parking their camper vans illegally, while others were caught defecating wherever they pleased.

“In a typical summer, you would see camper vans parked just about anywhere,” said Jenna Gottlieb, the author of the Moon Iceland travel guide and an American who has lived in Iceland since 2012. “That gets a lot of backlash from people because there aren’t toilets in a parking lot or wherever people are parking. It’s seen as so disrespectful.”

In 2015, a Justin Bieber music video transformed an obscure corner of the Icelandic countryside into a must-see spot for the Instagram crowd. The site — Fjadrargljufur canyon, which had little infrastructure in place when the video was filmed — was soon inundated with tourists. Iceland’s environmental agency later closed the site to visitors in the springtime, when the thawing earth is especially vulnerable to damage.

A survey of tourists in the summer of 2016 found that at all but two destinations — the popular Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir Geothermal Area — a majority of visitors weren’t bothered by the size of the crowds. Most Icelanders also remained positive about tourism. Indeed, the industry’s rise brought locals many benefits: a broader range of jobs and restaurants, more affordable flights to other parts of the world. Plus, many of them actually enjoyed having visitors. Unlike other European tourist hot spots like Venice and Barcelona, Iceland has no active anti-tourism movement.

Icelanders “are just warmhearted people who like to have visitors,” said Anna Dora Saethorsdottir, a professor of tourism at the University of Iceland. “We are proud of our culture, we are proud of our nature. When you’re proud of something, you also love showing it. Most Icelanders are very positive toward tourism.”

But still, concerns started to mount. Foreign experts and many Icelanders worried about the pressure that all of those tourists were putting on the country’s fragile natural landscape. “Overtourism” appeared in a travel story about Iceland in 2016, and use of the term began to spread.

Of course, it wasn’t to last. In 2017, the Icelandic krona strengthened, making the country more expensive. In March 2019, WOW Air, an Icelandic low-cost airline, collapsed. Tourist numbers that year declined by about 14 percent, to just under 2 million. And then came 2020.

The summer started off fairly well. Coronavirus numbers in Iceland were low and travel within Europe’s Schengen Area, of which Iceland is a member, began opening up. Travelers to Iceland could choose either to undergo a virus test on arrival or self-quarantine for 14 days. At the same time, the government rolled out a campaign to promote tourism among the island’s roughly 366,000 inhabitants, offering tourism vouchers worth 5,000 krona (about $36) to every Icelandic resident over the age of 18.

The summer was “pretty good, considering everything,” said Bjarnheidur Hallsdottir, the chair of the board of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association and the chief executive of two tourism companies. “And then suddenly out of nowhere, the government decided to change the rules at the borders. Since then, everyone is crying.”

Under the new rules, which took effect on Aug. 19 and are still in place, arriving passengers may choose either to submit to two screening tests for the virus, separated by five days’ self-quarantine, or to skip border screening and self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival.

“Given the uptick in infections worldwide and the widespread effect that a small infection can have on the functioning of our society, the Government has decided to strengthen our border-screening measures to further limit the number of infections entering the country,” Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said when the rules were announced.

When the new measures took effect, Ms. Hallsdottir said, tourist numbers plunged. And while virus cases remained low for most of the summer, the country has registered a wave of new infections since the middle of September, even with the new measures in force. Many of the recent cases have been linked to a pair of French tourists who tested positive for the virus when they arrived in the country, but then failed to isolate, Iceland’s news outlet reported. On Oct. 5, the government ordered bars, nightclubs and gyms to close, and banned most gatherings of more than 20 people.

As in most parts of the world, the tumult of the last several months has triggered a surge in unemployment in Iceland. Between March and August of this year, about 8,000 people — roughly 4 percent of the country’s labor force — were laid off, according to Iceland’s Directorate of Labour; most of those layoffs were in the tourism industry. Iceland’s unemployment rate reached 8.5 percent in August, compared to just 2.5 percent two years earlier. The agency predicted a rise in job losses in September and October.

Ms. Hallsdottir says that tourism operators are now looking to the government to help them cover running costs, or to pay the wages of a few personnel who can keep the companies afloat.

“If no one answers the phone or answers the emails, there will be no tourism next year,” she said.

After the 2008 banking crisis, Iceland’s tourism boom helped to propel the country into an impressive economic rebound. But while the rapid growth in foreign arrivals created jobs and revenue, it also outpaced the government’s ability to build the infrastructure that was needed to manage so many new visitors. Now, with tourist numbers low, the government has a chance to catch up.

This year, the Icelandic government is investing roughly 1.7 billion Icelandic krona (about $12.3 million) in infrastructure at both public and private tourist spots across the country, said Skarphedinn Berg Steinarsson, director general of the Icelandic Tourist Board. Roughly 1 billion krona has been set aside for infrastructure at national parks, protected areas and large public tourist sites, while 700 million krona is going into the country’s Tourist Site Protection Fund. The investments were already being planned last year, but the government increased the funding after the pandemic hit. Further investments will support harbor and road improvements throughout the country.

The improvements at tourist sites have two goals, Mr. Steinarsson said in an interview, “allowing them to receive bigger numbers — creating parking spaces, walking paths, etc. — but also preserving the nature to make sure that the sites will not be worn down when we get the visitors back.”

The largest grants from the Tourist Site Protection Fund are supporting the construction of a viewing platform on Bolafjall Mountain in the Westfjords, he said, as well as infrastructure at Studlagil Canyon, where a viewing platform is being installed as well as new walkways, toilets and information signs. These improvements are meant to keep tourists safe (the Bolafjall site features a steep cliff), while also protecting the landscape from environmental damage and improving the overall visitor experience.

The Studlagil Canyon is an example of a phenomenon that is not uncommon in Iceland: a site that was created not by the hosts, but by the visitors. The canyon — which features dramatic basalt-column cliffs lining the banks of a glacial-fed river — was “discovered” as an attractive destination only recently, Mr. Steinarsson said, after the river’s flow was made much calmer following the construction of a nearby hydroelectric plant.

“This is one of those sites that are created on social media,” Mr. Steinarsson said. “But there’s no infrastructure there, no parking sites, no toilets. What happens when you start allowing 100,000 or 500,000 visitors? Everything gets torn down because nothing is designed to accommodate that.”

Now the government is working with the owners of the land to build pathways, parking spaces and toilets. The goal, Mr. Steinarsson said, is to ensure that visitors can enjoy the site “without spoiling anything.”

The kind of infrastructure being installed at Studlagil is already in place at most of Iceland’s more established destinations, particularly in the Golden Circle — an area not far from Reykjavik that includes some of the country’s most famous tourist destinations: Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir Geothermal Area and Thingvellir National Park, among other spots. While the infrastructure in those areas is already fairly good, Mr. Steinarsson said, any areas that are particularly fragile will need continual upkeep — and funding — to protect against damage from visitors.

Plenty of Icelanders would have seen these places over the last several months, and enjoyed them with smaller crowds than usual. A marketing campaign encouraging Icelanders to explore their country was rolled out in the late spring (“Island — komdu med!” or “Iceland — come join us!”), while the government’s travel voucher campaign helped to jump-start demand for hotels, restaurants and attractions. So far, Icelanders have used more than $1.2 million worth of their free travel vouchers, which are valid through the end of the year. The most popular spots have been FlyOver Iceland, an attraction in Reykjavik; Islandshotel, a hotel chain; and Blue Lagoon, the geothermal spa near the country’s biggest airport.

“It was a success,” said Mr. Steinarsson of the efforts to encourage domestic tourism. “Icelanders really enjoyed their country during the summertime. And that’s what counts.”

What will Icelandic tourism look like after travel restrictions are finally lifted? Several people interviewed expressed the hope that future tourists would make longer visits and take the time to explore less popular corners of the country.

“If you get off the beaten path a little bit — and you don’t even have to go that far — you can get more of a remote feeling, a more private version of Iceland,” said Ms. Gottlieb, the travel guide author.

It’s a kind of travel that seems in line with how consumer attitudes have shifted during the pandemic, said Peter Jordan, head of strategy and research at Toposophy, a destination marketing and management agency. People are looking for “open spaces, fresh air, nature, walking routes, cycling trails, outdoor activities, and perhaps a much slower form of travel,” he said in an interview. By those measures, Iceland — which has the lowest population density in Europe — scores very well indeed.

Even Ms. Olafsdottir, the hotel manager, was optimistic about the country’s prospects for post-pandemic tourism.

“The population is so small and the country is so big,” she said. “For Iceland, that’s a huge opportunity.”

By: Paige McClanahan
Title: Iceland Tourism Prepares for a Comeback
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Published Date: Tue, 13 Oct 2020 09:00:25 +0000

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What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?




People have always liked to drink on board flights, especially people from Australia. Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone that there was an inflight bar offering in the 1970s.

Ansett Airlines were a major player in the Australian domestic market up until their demise in September 2001. For many years, there were two domestic airlines, Trans-Australia Airlines (TAA) and Ansett.

Ansett’s Inflight Bar

At the time, Ansett operated Boeing 727s, Douglas DC-9s and Fokker F27 Friendships on domestic routes in the country. Airline tickets were quite expensive, with tariffs agreed upon by both airlines thanks to Australia’s weird two-airline policy at the time.

While tickets were expensive and food complimentary, you still had to pay for a drink at the bar. Here is an inflight bar menu from the era, showing the drinks available and their prices.

Clearly the pricing is astounding by today’s standards – 30 cents for a beer? I’ll have thirty-three please! I like how Australian gin is 35c while the imported gin is just 5c more. Which would you choose?

You can tell it is from another era as you can buy cigarettes on board. These price up at 45c, a far cry from the extortionate prices people in the west pay these days for a smoke!

Overall Thoughts

The on board offering is pretty comprehensive for internal flights, and I imagine you’d be hard pressed not to find something you might like. In those times, all payments would have been by cash as well, which would have meant a lot of coinage being handled on board.

Of course, things haven’t changed too much over the years. On many airlines you pay for your drinks just as they did back in the 1970s. Shame the prices aren’t the same of course!

Did you ever buy drinks on board flights from the inflight bar back in the day? Do you still? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by Daniel Tanner on via Wikimedia Commons.
Menu image by Ikara on Australian Frequent Flyer.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?
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Published Date: Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:03:14 +0000

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These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?




The shrimp stop swimming at dusk and gather near the river’s edge. After sunset, they begin to climb out of the water. Then they march. All night long, the inch-long crustaceans parade along the rocks.

The parading shrimp of northeastern Thailand have inspired legends, dances and even a statue. (Locals also eat them.) During the rainy season, between late August and early October, tourists crowd the riverbanks with flashlights to watch the shrimp walk.

Watcharapong Hongjamrassilp first learned about the parading shrimp, and the hundred thousand or more tourists who come each year to see them, about 20 years ago. When he started studying biology, he returned to the topic. “I realized that we know nothing about this,” he said: What species are they? Why and how do they leave the safety of the water to walk upstream on dry land? Where are they going?

Mr. Hongjamrassilp, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, decided to answer those questions himself. His findings appeared this month in the Journal of Zoology.

Working with wildlife center staff members, Mr. Hongjamrassilp staked out nine sites along a river in Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani province. They found shrimp parading at two of the sites — a stretch of rapids, and a low dam.

The videos they recorded revealed that the shrimp paraded from sundown to sunup. They traveled up to 65 feet upstream. Some individual shrimp stayed out of the water for 10 minutes or more.

“I was so surprised,” Mr. Hongjamrassilp said, “because I never thought that a shrimp can walk that long.” Staying in the river’s splash zone may help them keep their gills wet, so they can keep taking in oxygen. He also observed that the shells of the shrimp seem to trap a little water around their gills, like a reverse dive helmet.

DNA analysis from captured shrimp showed that nearly all belonged to the species Macrobrachium dienbienphuense, part of a genus of shrimp that live mostly or fully in freshwater. Many Macrobrachiumspecies spend part of their lives migrating upstream to their preferred habitats.

Most parading shrimp that Mr. Hongjamrassilp captured were young. Observations and lab experiments showed that these shrimp probably leave the water when the flow becomes too strong for them. Larger adult shrimp can handle a stronger current without washing away, so they’re less likely to leave the water.

Walking on land is dangerous for the little shrimp, even under cover of darkness. Predators including frogs, snakes and large spiders lurk nearby, Mr. Hongjamrassilp says. “Literally, they wait to eat them along the river.”

And the shrimp can survive on land for only so long. If the parading crustaceans lose their way, they may dry out and die before they get back to the river. A few times, Mr. Hongjamrassilp came across groups of lost shrimp dead on the rocks, their once-translucent bodies baked pink.

Yet most navigate upstream successfully, and scientists have spotted other freshwater shrimp around the world performing similar feats, scaling dams and even climbing waterfalls.

Leaving the water when the swimming gets tough may have helped these animals spread to new habitats over their evolutionary history, Mr. Hongjamrassilp said. Today, the number of parading shrimp in Thailand seems to be declining. He thinks tourist activity may be a factor, and learning more about the shrimp might help protect them.

The study’s authors made “some really excellent observations,” said Alan Covich, an ecologist at the University of Georgia who was not involved in the research. But understanding why the Ubon Ratchathani shrimp move upstream, and how far they travel, will require more research, he said.

“The most surprising thing to me was that it attracted so many tourists,” Dr. Covich said. He doesn’t know of any other example of people gathering to appreciate a crustacean in quite the same way.

“We have crayfish festivals, we have all kinds of things,” Dr. Covich said, “but generally it’s people eating them, not watching them move.”

By: Elizabeth Preston
Title: These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?
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Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 17:02:07 +0000

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Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?




There are reports that Aer Lingus have applied for 1,500 slots at Manchester Airport for the Summer 2021 season. This will allow the airline to base four aircraft there and service flights to the United States.

At present, there have been no press releases from the airline stating what is going on. Even so, it probably makes sense for the Irish airline to do this in the current market.

Aer Lingus And Manchester

From what is known, there will be three Airbus A321LRs and an A330 based at Manchester. These will operate non-stop services to New York JFK, Boston, Chicago and Orlando, and the season starts on 28 March 2021.

With Thomas Cook having gone out of business, there is likely space for another competitor. New York and Orlando will see competition from Virgin Atlantic, while the other two routes have no airline flying at the moment.

Aer Lingus has been connecting passengers over Dublin very successfully from the UK regions for a while now. Due to this, they will have visibility on traffic patterns, potential yields and more, making this an informed decision.

I imagine they also hope to cream off some of the connecting traffic that routes through London Heathrow on British Airways and Amsterdam on KLM among others. It would prove to be quite successful.

Transatlantic Joint Venture Approval

The US Department of Transport has tentatively given its approval for Aer Lingus to join the oneworld transatlantic joint business. This is operated by American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia and Finnair.

These airlines coordinate schedules and pricing, share revenues and expenses. For the consumer, it means more choice – those making a booking on British Airways across the Atlantic will also see options on American Airlines on the BA web site as one example.

Theoretically, it would allow people seeking flights on the British Airways web site to automatically be given options to fly non-stop with Aer Lingus, along with the Manchester-London Heathrow-US city connecting itinerary.

Whether Aer Lingus will join the oneworld alliance, even in a oneworld connect capacity remains to be seen. Frequent flyers would welcome it, especially those in Ireland.

Overall Thoughts

No doubt the boffins have been working behind the scenes to see if the business case for transatlantic flights from Manchester stack up. As things have proceeded as far as a slot application, I would guess chances are good that it will go ahead.

Either way, let’s see if this happens and if it does, whether Aer Lingus will stay for the long haul. If they can make more money elsewhere, they’ll up sticks and leave. Regardless, it is an interesting development in European aviation.

What do you think of Aer Lingus starting transatlantic services from Manchester? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by N509FZ via Wikimedia Commons.
Aer Lingus A321neo LR by Pitmanaaron via Wikimedia Commons.
Business class cabin via One Mile At A Time.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 18:03:48 +0000

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