New Tourism Campaign Prompts Criticism

Locals and tourists enjoy the sunshine in Reykjavík's Austurvöllur square.

A new collaborative project aimed at promoting tourism in Iceland, called “Good Hosts,” has drawn vocal criticism from Efling union chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir.

The project was announced Friday, July 14th, with Minister of Tourism Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Chairperson of the Tourist Service Association Bjarnheiður Hallsdóttir, Director of Tourism Arnar Már Ólafsson publishing the project’s website on social media.

The project aims to encourage Icelanders to embrace the important role of being “good hosts.” According to the project website, “the hospitality of the nation is a significant part of creating a positive experience for tourists in Iceland. Together, we are a part of some of the most valuable moments for people on their journey. We all enjoy the benefits of tourist visits. We can thank the vibrant tourism industry for its diverse services and outstanding hospitality throughout the country. The visits of these enthusiastic guests have made our society more diverse and enjoyable.”

The project additionally calls upon individuals and companies to take part in a “good host pledge.”

The project, however, has drawn criticism from some, including Efling union chairperson Sólveig Anna. In a recent post, Sólveig Anna recalls the strikes earlier this year during a particularly contentious contract negotiation:

“Last winter, Bjarnheiður Hallsdóttir claimed that the tourism industry was in ruins following COVID. She accused Efling, a union representing low-wage workers in the capital area, of manufacturing a disaster […] She also expressed concerns that if Efling’s members went on strike, exercising their constitutional right, inflation would increase, and people would become unemployed. In essence, she portrayed the legitimate and self-evident fight of low-wage workers, mostly immigrants, for a better life, as a criminal attack on the well-being of all Icelanders […] Now Bjarnheiður wants to compel all of us to promote our beautiful country for her […] She wants us all to help her sell our homeland so she can become richer.”

Among the benefits of the recent growth in Icelandic tourism, the project highlights 25,770 jobs that have been created, in addition to increased services for the entire nation.

 

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Passenger Boat Stranded at Hornstrandir

hornstrandir hiking

A passenger boat en route from Bolungarvík to Hornstrandir stranded in the late afternoon, yesterday, July 16. RÚV reports.

Hornstrandir is a wilderness reserve in the Westfjords notable for its large population of Arctic foxes. Although the region is connected to the mainland, its remote location means that hikers and travellers to the area must rely on boats.

The ship is reported to have run aground in Látravík bay near the Hornbjargsviti lighthouse. According to Landsbjörg spokesperson Jón Þór Víglundsson, the passengers reached the shore safely.

Jón Þór stated to RÚV: “Two rescue boats were sent out, one from Ísafjörður and the other from Bolungarvík. There was never any real danger during the journey, but it seems that the ship ran aground while attempting to bring the passengers ashore.”

Further information is not available at this time, but such boats generally transport small groups ranging from five to ten individuals.

The boat was assisted by the vessel Gísli Jóns from Ísafjörður and was then towed by the coastguard vessel Þór.

Reykjanes Eruption Site Remains Closed

iceland volcano 2023

The Reykjanes eruption site remains closed today, July 17, following a meeting of The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management and local authorities. However, the decision will be reconsidered today at 1:00 PM.

The decision to close the site was made July 13 and it remained closed over the weekend.

Smoke from wildfires obscured the hiking trails to the eruption site, in addition to posing a health risk. Under these circumstances, local authorities could not guarantee the safety of those entering the area.

Read more: Firefighters Fought Wildfires Near Eruption Site Until 2 AM

Efforts are now being made to extinguish the wildfires northeast of Keilir towards the viewpoint at Hraunsels-Vatnsfell. Police also report that the Coast Guard helicopter is on its way to assist in the firefighting operation.

Despite the area being closed, search and rescue teams had to search for two travellers last night. A man in his forties was found on Höskuldarvallavegur at 6:00 A, and a woman was found east of Keilir at 3:00 AM.

reykjanes eruption hiking trail
Suðurnes Police

The above picture was taken by local authorities at 6:30 AM and shows the difficult visibility conditions. Gas plumes can be seen blowing over the hiking trail, in addition to smoke from the wildfires.

Read more about Iceland’s latest eruption on the Reykjanes here.

 

Firefighters Fought Wildfires Near Eruption Site Until 2 AM

iceland volcano 2023

Firefighters worked until 2 AM extinguishing wildfires that have arisen as a result of the eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula. A fire marshall with the Grindavík Fire Brigade told RÚV that there was plenty of work to be done today.

Managed to extinguish small fires near the trail

Firefighters worked to extinguish wildfires in the vicinity of the eruption site at Litli-Hrútur until 2 AM. Daníel Karlsson, Duty Officer with the Grindavík Fire Brigade, told Mbl.is this morning that the firefighting had gone well: “It went well. We managed to put out the smaller fire near the trail to the eruption site.”

According to Daníel, preparations for the day’s firefighting began at 8 AM.

Thick blue smoke covers the hiking trail

Einar Sveinn Jónsson, Fire Marshall with the Grindavík Brigade, is among those who have fought the wildfires near the eruption site. Einar told RÚV this morning that the outlook had often been rosier and that there was a significant amount of smoke.

“Naturally, it’s quite windy, so the smoke covers the trail. Thick, blue smoke from the wildfires blow through the final 2-3 kilometres of the trail, which makes it completely impossible to hike the trail. It is barely passable by car, due to pollution; you can hardly see.”

Einar told RÚV that the firefighting last night and into the early hours of today went well: “But there’s quite a bit of work left. Today’s task will probably be challenging, considering the amount of pollution. But it hasn’t gotten so bad that we have to stop.”

Teen Dies in Þrengslavegur Car Crash

Small boat fishermen crowd the Arnarstapi harbour each summer for the coastal fishing season

An 18-year-old motorist has died after an accident on Þrengslavegur in South Iceland yesterday morning.

Vehicle veered off the road

The South Iceland Police was notified of a car accident at 8:38 AM yesterday on Þrengslavegur, which links the Ring Road to southern coastal towns. The vehicle veered off the road and rolled multiple times. Authorities temporarily closed Þrengslavegur for on-site operations.

The driver of the vehicle, who was 18 years old, was pronounced dead upon arrival at the National University Hospital. The identity of the driver has yet to be revealed.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation by the South Iceland Police and the Accident Investigation Board.

8.9% Increase in Foreign Nationals Living in Iceland

pedestrian street Laugavegur Reykjavík

70,307 foreign nationals were registered as residents in Iceland as of July 1, which is an increase of 5,722 persons since December 1 of last year (or 8.9%). Iceland’s total population as of July 1 was 393,955.

Greatest Relative Increase Among Palestinians, Belarusians

According to Registers Iceland, 70,307 foreign nationals were registered as residents in Iceland as of July 1. This marks an increase of 5,722 people (8.9%) since December 1 of last year.

Significant population increases were noted among Polish, Ukrainian, and Romanian nationals. The Ukrainian resident count rose by 43.4% (982 individuals), now totalling 3,247; the number of Romanian residents in Iceland increased by 14.7% (534 individuals), standing at 4,157; and Polish residents, the largest foreign national group, grew by 7.2% (1,677 individuals), reaching a total of 24,973.

As noted by Registers Iceland, the most significant relative growth among foreign nationals was seen among Belarusian citizens, with a 46.7% rise, or 14 individuals. Palestinian nationals increased by 39.4%, or by 122 individuals.

During the same period, the Icelandic citizen count saw a minor increase of 1,062, or 0.3%. Iceland’s total population as of July 1 was 393,955.

Pussy Riot Performs at LungA Art Festival in Seyðisfjörður

Pussy Riot

The protest and performance art group Pussy Riot took the stage at the LungA art festival in Seyðisfjörður last night, RÚV reports. This is the first time that the group performs in Iceland after two of its members were granted Icelandic citizenship.

“Cannot express the honour in words”

The LungA art festival, which is held annually in Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland, began last Monday, July 10. Among the performers at the festival is Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist protest and performance art group, which took the stage last night.

Pussy Riot’s show, referred to as a play, is entitled Riot Days and is based on the eponymous book by Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina. As noted on the group’s website, Riot Days is “a story of resistance, repression, and revolution in a mixture of concert, rally, theatre, and political happening.”

Read More: Velvet Terrorism (Iceland Review speaks to Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina)

Pussy Riot has recently toured parts of Europe with Riot Days, with the LungA art festival being the last stop on the journey. As noted by RÚV, this is the group’s first concert in Iceland since two of its members received Icelandic citizenship. Speaking to RÚV, Maria Alyokhina stated that she was grateful for having been granted citizenship. “I cannot express this honour in words.”

Maria also commented on the group’s performance: “I think it’s very important to find these bridges and use the common language of art to talk to each other because the war is about discrimination and hatred.”

Over 30 Norovirus Cases at Reykjavík Burger Chain

Health authorities in Reykjavík have received at least 15 reports of illness connected to two locations of the Reykjavík burger chain Hamborgarafabrikkan. One of the locations has since been closed, RÚV reports. The illness seems to be a norovirus infection, according to Óskar Ísfeld Sigurðsson, department head at the Reykjavík Health Authority. Óskar says the total number of people who have gotten ill is between 30 and 40.

The symptoms of norovirus infection are typically vomiting and diarrhoea. The infection can be dangerous for those with underlying illnesses or chronic conditions. A norovirus outbreak occurred at a hotel in East Iceland earlier this month, but there are no indications the two outbreaks are related.

Hamborgarafabrikkan is a popular chain and no such cases have occurred at the restaurant previously.

Eruption Site Closed Due to Gas and Wildfire Pollution

Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra. The eruption on Reykjanes, July 10, 2023

The Suðurnes Chief of Police has decided to close the active eruption site on Reykjanes due to dangerous pollution levels from wildfires as well as the eruption itself. The site will be closed until Saturday, when authorities will review whether conditions have changed. The eruption is significantly stronger than the 2021 and 2022 eruptions at the same site and has been producing significant gas pollution and set off wildfires in the surrounding vegetation.

Some enter site despite warnings

In a written statement, the chief of police said the safety of people entering the site could not be ensured in the current conditions. The prevailing winds are now blowing the gas pollution from the eruption along the hiking route, and smoke pollution from wildfires is adding to the danger. Nevertheless, some travellers have ignored the warnings of first responders and have entered the site.

The eruption began on Monday, July 10 and so far only minor injuries have been reported from the site, such as twisted ankles and exhaustion. However, Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, Communications Director for the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management stated that visitors’ behaviour was not exemplary yesterday. “It’s just a matter of time before something serious happens,” she told RÚV.

Worse pollution than 2021 and 2022 eruptions

The air quality at the current eruption site is much worse than at the 2021 and 2022 eruptions, according to Vísir. This is in part due to the wildfire smoke. “We see that the smoke from wildfires is spreading over a large area,” Gunnar Guðmundsson, lung specialist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Iceland, told mbl.is. “When vegetations burns, small soot particles form in the smoke, so the smoke can be very irritating to the eyes and respiratory system.”

The smoke is mostly a risk for hikers at the site and residents of the Suðurnes peninsula need not be concerned, Gunnar stated. He did encourage those with sensitivities, such as asthma, to show caution and use medication when necessary.

Minister’s Temporary Whaling Ban Could Be Extended

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s temporary ban on whaling may be extended, Mbl.is reports. A ministry-organised working group is assessing the compliance of whaling with animal welfare and whaling laws.

Temporary ban announced

On June 20, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, announced a temporary halt to the hunting of fin whales until August 31. The decision was prompted by a specialist council’s report revealing non-compliance with the Act on Animal Welfare.

Mbl.is reports a ministry-organised working group will assess the compliance of whaling with animal welfare and whaling laws in the coming weeks: “From the time that regulation no. 642/​2023 was enacted, the ministry has deliberated on refining hunting methods and equipment for large whales to align with Act No. 55/2013 and Act No. 26/1949,” the Ministry’s answer reads.

The working group, following its assessment, is expected to offer alternatives or potential solutions to the ministry, indicating that the “temporary” ban might be extended if the group determines that current whaling practices can’t meet animal welfare laws.