Icelandic Tourism Approaching Pre-Pandemic Levels

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International flights in and out of Iceland’s Keflavík International Airport are nearly as many now as they were in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Yesterday, the airport saw 119 arrivals and departures, as compared to around 150 per day during the summer of 2019. Tourism operators report that bookings are also approaching 2019 levels and business owners are optimistic this summer will be a good one.

“As the situation is now, the prospects are very good,” Bjarnheiður Hallsdóttir, chairperson of The Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF) told RÚV. “We’ve seen a steady increase in demand from foreign tourists over the past weeks and months. There’s a lot of optimism, and I know examples of some companies that have actually reached 80-90% of the sales they had at this time of year in 2019. So it all bodes well.”

Tourism companies prepared

Some operators predict that more international tourists will opt for driving the Ring Road on their own this summer, rather than purchasing group tours, due to pandemic-related concerns. Large cruise ships are expected in the country this summer, as well as at least two ships that will be travelling around the coast.

Bjarnheiður says Iceland’s tourism industry is prepared to receive the wave of international visitors. “We were lucky that most tourism companies survived and for that we can largely thank the government’s response measures and just people’s perseverance in the industry. So I think that most companies in tourism are pretty well prepared for this and have had a good amount of time to prepare themselves, so I think we’re ready for the wave [of visitors].”

Renovations at Keflavík Airport this summer

Those travelling through Keflavík airport this summer can expect to see some renovations taking place, as the airport will be adding 20,000 square metres of facilities over the next two years. Guðjón Helgason, Isavia’s public relations officer, says the company will aim to minimise the impact of the renovations on travellers.

Fugitive Captured After Three Days on the Lam

A twenty-year-old man who escaped from police custody last Tuesday has been apprehended. According to a statement from the police, five other people have also been arrested.

Escape from the District Courthouse

On Tuesday, April 19, twenty-year-old Gabríel Douane Boama escaped from police custody at the District Court in downtown Reykjavík.

Gabríel was accused, alongside four others, of having ganged up on a man in his twenties outside Kjarvalsstaðir on July 18 of last year, coercing the man to transfer ISK 892,000 ($7,000 / €6,400) into his bank account with three separate transfers.

On the night of the escape, Gabríel published two posts on Instagram, one of which indicated that he was hiding out in the Vesturbær neighbourhood of Reykjavík.

Twice mistaken for the fugitive

On Wednesday, April 20, the police received a tip that Gabríel was riding on a city bus.

Special forces stopped the bus and boarded – only to discover that the person responsible for the tip had mistaken a 16-year-old boy for the fugitive. The boy, whose friends called him a cab and accompanied him home, was considerably distressed.

The incident provoked its share of criticism, raising questions about racial profiling.

Musician Logi Pedró Stefánsson questioned the methods employed by the police to call attention to a wanted individual on social media and in the news. “It’s unacceptable that armed special forces barge in and remove a 16-year-old child only because he has the same haircut as a wanted individual,” Logi wrote.

The boy’s mother also contacted the police to express her dismay that young men of colour were in danger of being harassed by the police. National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir stated that she was sorry that an innocent boy had been entangled in police operations.

Déjà vu all over again

A day later, the same 16-year-old boy was again mistaken for the fugitive at a bakery in the Mjódd neighbourhood of Reykjavík. According to reports, “a man in a Tesla” called the police with a tip.

As reported by Fréttablaðið, a video of the event showed the boy and his mother seated at a table in the bakery when police officers approached: “I knew it!” she exclaimed before telling them that they were “not allowed to talk to her child.”

Finally apprehended

Yesterday, Gabríel Douane Boama published another post on Instagram, posing alongside a friend within an undisclosed apartment. Nearly twelve hours later, the Capital Area Police announced that they had apprehended Gabríel after “significant operations.”

Five other people were also arrested, with police investigating if any of the individuals had been complicit in Gabríel’s escape.