As tourism returns to pre-Covid levels in Iceland, the country’s national tourism website has set itself the objective of encouraging visitors to stay longer and explore more of the island.
During a press meet-up dedicated to Scandinavian tourism actors in Paris in March 2023, Þórdís Pétursdóttir of Visit Iceland shared some of the country’s tourism goals for 2023.
Currently, the typical visitor to Iceland stays five days in summer and three/four days in winter. Visit Iceland has set itself the ambitious target of extending these stays and having travellers stay for two to three weeks on the island.
The principal driving factor behind this decision is twofold: on one part it is designed to promote less-visited destinations, on the other it is aimed at boosting slow travel amongst international visitors.
Generally, the visitor to Iceland goes to Reykjavik and spends a few days in the capital before moving to another area in the south-west such as the Reykjanes Peninsula. Visit Iceland has taken up the challenge of boosting visitor numbers to other regions, primarily the North and the East of the island.
Part of this strategy is the promotion of different facets of Icelandic life. Pétursdóttir highlighted the country’s food, wellness, and leisure offerings as a principal lever for the realisation of this ambition.
Geysers, the Northern Lights, and the rugged terrain of these areas will serve to attract the traveller seeking adventure and authentic experiences.
In terms of F&B, Visit Iceland wishes to showcase the quality of Icelandic produce such as its lamb and fish. It is leading a general push aimed at promoting local, in-season dishes and a farm-to-table philosophy amongst industry actors.
Beyond these elements, a plan is also in place to work closely with regional tourist offices to define which elements they wish to put forward to attract visitors to their regions.
The recent arrival of German airlines to local airports in Akureyri (northern Iceland) and Egilsstaðir (eastern) will also naturally serve to encourage travel in the targeted regions. These new links will permit visitors to fly directly to the destinations from Germany.
Indeed, the north-west of the island managed a touristic coup last year when the Westfjords Way was named Lonely Planet’s Top 1 Travel Destination in 2022. This recognition alone is proof of Iceland’s lesser-known destinations’ ability to seduce international travellers.
Whilst the country’s limited public transport infrastructure outside the capital means visitors mostly move around the island via rental car, a move to ever greater sustainability is a key part of the desire to extend visitors’ stays in Iceland.
The promotion of slow travel is central to Visit Iceland’s plan in this regard. Aside from the country’s many natural resources that facilitate ecological transition, visitors will be encouraged to take in the rest of the country’s tourism offer in a sustainable manner.
Again, elements such as natural phenomenon native to Iceland like its geysers and the farm-to-table approach to dining will be put to the forefront to encourage slow travel. A bid will also be made to push off-season travel in Iceland as part of this strategy.
Finally, Pétursdóttir also briefly presented the new Travel Trade website that Visit Iceland rolled out in 2022. The revamped site plays into the country’s wider programme to promote and market responsible and sustainable tourism in Iceland from abroad.
Visit Iceland’s plans are bold. Tripling the average stay in a country is a long-term goal that will not come to fruition overnight. However, the volcanic island has unique natural attributes that set it apart from nearly every other country on earth and its tourism actors know fully how to exploit them. By tying this innate advantage into a well-thought out offer and marketing campaign that takes into account sustainability concerns, there seems to be no reason why Iceland should not be able to pull off this feat.