More Overnight Stays Booked This June Than Pre-Pandemic

Icelandair Marina Hotel

Foreign tourists booked 405,000 overnight stays in Icelandic hotels in June 2022, which is an increase of 6%, or roughly 23,000 more stays than were booked in June 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Túristi reports that there was also a jump in hotel bookings among Icelanders, with just over 91,000 overnight stays booked in June 2022, as compared to 38,000 in June 2019.

These were among the findings in a new report issued by Statistics Iceland on Friday.

Americans have had by far the most overnight bookings in Iceland over the years: 127,163 in 2019 up to 140,651 in 2022, for an increase of 11% between the years. Icelanders had the second most overnight bookings in June 2022, or 91,388 to be exact. Percentage-wise, this is the most significant increase by nationality since the pre-pandemic years. Germans had the third most bookings by total in June 2022: 58,453, or a 27% increase from the 46,170 overnight stays they booked in June 2019. In terms of percentage increases, however, Italians had the next highest increase in overnight June bookings after Icelanders: 11,728 in June 2022, or an increase of 89% from 6,200 in June 2019.

The new figures show that between June of this year and last year, 2021, occupancy rates around Iceland went up from 40% to 78.8%. Regionally, the biggest jump in hotel bookings was, unsurprisingly, in the capital region, with 5,400 hotel rooms booked in 2022 versus 3,277 in 2021. The second largest increase was seen in the Southwest: 1,017 in 2022, up from 880 in 2021. East Iceland has seen the least change in overnight stays in the last year, with only two more overnight stays booked in 2022 (441) than in 2021 (439).

Take a look at a summary of Statistics Iceland’s new overnight stay data on their website, in English, here.

One Out of Four Icelanders Went Abroad This Summer

Keflavík Airport

One out of four Icelanders went abroad this summer, as the country began to recover from the initial waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. This per a new Gallup poll, reported by RÚV, and is a marked increase from the summer before, when only 6% of Icelanders left the country.

Though this summer saw an increase in Icelanders enjoying international travel, the numbers are still not close to what they were pre-pandemic. During the summer of 2019, 57% of Icelanders went abroad during the summer; 62% went abroad in 2018. The current poll surveyed Icelanders from all around the country and found that more capital-area residents travelled out of the country than those who live elsewhere in Iceland.

Domestic travel is still experiencing a boom in Iceland, too: three out of four Icelanders travelled within the country this summer, or 76%. That is a slight decrease from the summer before, when 82% of Icelanders travelled domestically.

The poll was conducted from October 7 to 18 and surveyed 1,625 people with a participation rate of 51.1%.

Record Traffic on Ring Road in July

Traffic in Iceland’s capital area decreased by more than 3% last month while traffic on the Ring Road increased by around 6% and has never been heavier in any July on record. This data from the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration indicates that an unusually high number of capital area residents travelled to the countryside last month. July traffic in the capital area has not been lighter since 2016.

Despite lower numbers of foreign tourists as compared to pre-pandemic figures, a record amount of traffic was recorded on Iceland’s Ring Road in July. Traffic was 2.3% higher in July 2021 than in July 2019, when the previous record for that month was set. The biggest increase was recorded in East Iceland, where counters recorded a 23% rise in vehicle numbers.

Traffic has increased 6.4% in the first half of 2021 as compared to the same period in 2020. It is, however, still 3% lighter than it was during the same period in 2019. Looking at data for the month of July 2021 alone, there was less traffic on all days of the week as compared to July 2020, except on Fridays, which showed a 1.4% increase in traffic. Fridays show the heaviest traffic while Sundays show the lightest.

The Road and Coastal Administration projects an 8.5% increase in traffic by the end of the year as compared to 2020. If that figure proves correct, traffic will still be 2.5% lighter than in 2019.

Icelandic Locals to Receive a Second Travel Voucher This Year

Goðafoss waterfall

Icelanders can expect to receive another domestic travel voucher this year, in a repeat of the 2020 government initiative meant to support tourism companies by encouraging locals to travel within the country. Minister of Tourism Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir told RÚV the government is still finalising the details of this year’s voucher, which will be announced in the next few days. Many locals are planning to spend their summer vacation in Iceland.

Last year, all residents of Iceland 18 and older received a voucher worth ISK 5,000 ($36/€33), redeemable at hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-related businesses across the country. Around 200,000 redeemed their voucher, while around 38,000 have not yet done so. Last year’s vouchers are valid until the end of May 2021. The initiative cost Iceland’s government around ISK 1.5 billion ($10.8 million/€9.8 million).

Þórdís says there is political will to revive the initiative, though it has not yet been decided what the amount will be, nor for how long the voucher will be valid. “We are working on it in the context of other issues in this hopefully final phase of this project,” Þórdís stated. “That work is going well and it will become clear in the next few days how it will be implemented.”

Unclear Whether Foreign Tourists Will Multiply

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist has discouraged locals from travelling abroad in light of the high rate of COVID-19 infection in many other countries. Locals interviewed by RÚV this week stated they were planning to spend their summer vacation within Iceland’s borders. It’s not clear how many foreign tourists Iceland can expect this summer, though border regulations are expected to change from May 1 allowing travellers from low-risk areas to eschew quarantine upon arrival.

Most Travel Vouchers Redeemed in Capital Area

blue lagoon Iceland

Nearly 140,000 people have now downloaded their ISK 5,000 [$36; €33] summer travel voucher, over half of which (85,132) have been spent, in part or in full, around the capital area, RÚV reports. The vouchers, available to all adult residents of Iceland, are “first and foremost symbolic,” as Minister of Tourism Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir has noted, and are intended to encourage domestic travel this summer.

See Also: All Icelanders to Receive Gift Certificate for Domestic Tourism

According to information released by the Ministry of Industry and Innovation, 85,132 vouchers have been used thus far, amounting to ISK 369,517,444 [$2.7 million; €2.3 million] in spending within the local tourism industry. Around ISK 92 million [$676,421; €570,978] in vouchers have been redeemed in and around Reykjavík. By comparison, ISK 56 million [$411,704; €347,600] has been spent in South Iceland, ISK 48 million [$352,889; €297,942] in Northeast Iceland, ISK 35 million [$257277; €217,217] in East Iceland, and ISK 30 million [$220,539; €186,229] in West Iceland. Roughly ISK 71 million [$521,905; €440,742] has been spent with companies that have a nationwide presence.

From flight simulators to nature baths

One of the most popular things for people to spend their travel voucher on is hotel stays, with ISK 124 million [$911,429; €769,807] spent on in this sector. Close to 7,000 travel vouchers have been spent at the Íslandshótel chain operated by Icelandair.

Businesses classified as ‘recreation and entertainment’ have received a total of ISK 111 million [$815,996; €689,023]. The most popular choice in this sector has been Flyover Iceland, a flight simulator that takes visitors on a full-sensory flight over Iceland. Three thousand four hundred vouchers have been redeemed with the company, for a total of ISK 17 million [$124,917; €105,520]. The Blue Lagoon has been another popular choice, with 2,800 travel vouchers redeemed there. Further afield, the Vök Baths in East Iceland have gotten a lot of local visitors this summer (1,400 vouchers redeemed), as has the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon (1,200 vouchers redeemed).

Pizza still popular

Restaurants have also benefited from the travel voucher scheme, with ISK 102 million [$749,284; €633,111] invested in this industry. Five million krónur [$36,735; $31,037] has been spent on pizza alone; 1,000 vouchers have been spent at Dominos.

Around 45,000 Icelanders Have Spent Domestic Travel Voucher

Whale Watching Hvalaskoðun á Faxaflóa

Around 100,000 Icelanders have downloaded the ISK 5,000 ($36/€33) travel voucher given to all adult residents to encourage domestic travel this summer, RÚV reports. The initiative will cost Iceland’s government around ISK 1.5 billion ($10.8 million/€9.8 million), and although she has called it “first and foremost symbolic,” Minister of Tourism Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir has stated it would make a difference to smaller companies.

The vouchers became available on June 19 and since then around 100,000 Icelanders have downloaded one and just under half, or 45,000, have already spent it. Around 25,000 of those spent their voucher within the last ten days.

Read More: All Icelanders to Receive Gift Certificate for Domestic Tourism

The vouchers can be redeemed at a variety of businesses within Iceland’s tourism industry, including hotels, tour companies, restaurants, and transportation companies. Of those who have spent their voucher, one third spent it on accommodation. Just under 30% spent the voucher on activities and 25.6% on dining. A further 11.1% spent theirs on transportation.

The vouchers are valid until the end of this year.

Campsites Filling to Capacity

campsite

Campsites around the country are quickly filling to capacity due to gathering limits of 500 people or fewer at once, RÚV reports. The restrictions on gathering sizes will likely be in effect for the rest of this summer, in which camping has become more of a popular activity for Icelanders who are not travelling abroad as usual.

There were reports over the weekend of people being turned away from the campsite at Skaftafell in Southeast Iceland, and increased usage at Básar in Þórsmörk in the southern highlands and Ásbyrgi in North Iceland.

Currently, Básar has at least 300 people camping a night and the facility is receiving more booking requests every day. Rangers emphasise that given current gathering restrictions – not to mention the remoteness of the camping area – campers need to book their spaces in advance. An additional camping area was opened earlier this summer at Ásbyrgi to meet demand, but rangers say that no one has had to be turned away yet. Travellers are encouraged to call ahead, however, to ensure that there will be enough space for them as the month goes on.

Even with the gathering limits and more Icelanders camping, however, many sites are still seeing far less traffic than usual and, accordingly, decreases in revenue. Lake Mývatn tourism operator Finnur Sigfús Illugason says that Icelanders simply won’t come out if the weather forecast isn’t particularly good; utilisation of his campsite has been at 20-25%.

Hildur Þóra Magnúsdóttir, director of a company that operates campsites around the North Fjords similarly remarked that revenues are down but says that turnouts are still better than expected – not that it solves all the problems. Visitors to the campsite at Varmahlið had to be turned away not due to gathering restrictions, but because the site simply wasn’t big enough to accommodate everyone. Moreover, the increased number of Icelanders camping over the summer means that more people are sleeping in camper vans and RVs rather than tents, which has also put a strain on the availability of electrical hookups. One of the other sites Hildur Þóra manages, at Hólar í Hjaltadal, is very large and has a great location, but no electricity. And most Icelanders, she said, simply don’t want to rough it that much when camping: “Icelanders aren’t exactly determined enough to visit [the campground at] Hólar.”

Bumper to Bumper Traffic on First Major Travel Weekend of the Year

Route 1 Iceland

Traffic heading out of Reykjavík was particularly heavy on Friday afternoon, RÚV reports, as relaxed regulations on travel and gatherings coincided with the Whitsun holiday and the first major travel weekend of the year.

Not unexpectedly, car travel has been down significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a 28% decrease in capital area traffic this April versus the same time the year before. As of Friday afternoon, however, it seems that Icelanders are ready to get back on the road, with bumper to bumper traffic averaging 20-30 km (12-19 mi) per hour heading north out of the city when conditions were at their worst, around rush hour.

See Also: All Icelanders to Receive Gift Certificate for Domestic Tourism

One couple on their way out of town told reporters that it had taken them an hour and a half to get from the intersection of Sæbraut and Dalbraut on the east side of Reykjavík to the turn-off for Þingvallavegur, which under normal circumstances takes less than 15 minutes to drive.

With accommodations around Akureyri in North Iceland in particular demand, many travellers are opting to travel in motorhomes and travel trailers. However, variable wind conditions throughout the country mean that travellers should be particularly cautious when embarking in their caravans; prevention counsellors at local insurance companies issued a caution to travellers on Friday evening, urging them not to drive their motorhomes and travel trailers when wind speeds exceed 15 metres/second (34 miles per hour).

All Icelanders to Receive Gift Certificate for Domestic Tourism

Icelandair Marina Hotel

Icelandic residents 18 and older will each receive a voucher worth ISK 5,000 ($36/€33), redeemable at hotels and tourism companies around the country between June and December of this year. Minister of Tourism Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir said the measure was “first and foremost symbolic,” but that it would make a difference to smaller companies. The measure was first announced as part of the government’s first economic response package to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Icelandic Travel Industry Association and the Icelandic Tourist Board held an information meeting presenting the measure this morning. The voucher will likely be distributed via a smartphone app to all adult residents, who number around 250,000. The total cost of the measure will therefore be around ISK 1.5 billion ($10.8 million/€9.8 million).

The credit will be redeemable for accomodation, transporation, dining, and activities within the tourism industry. It will also be transferable, though no individual will be allowed to redeem more than 15 vouchers. Tourism companies will also have a cap on how many vouchers they may accept, though the cap is relatively high at 20,000 vouchers, or ISK 100 million ($723,000/€656,000).

Tourism Minister Þórdís Kolbrún stated that the government recognised the measure was not in and of itself enough to save struggling companies. “We realise that 5,000 krónur to all Icelanders 18 years and older does not change whether companies live or die. This is first and foremost a symbolic measure. But it will matter, especially for companies with smaller capacity.”

Nearly Half of Icelanders Hit the Road This Weekend

Mt. Eystrahorn in Southeast Iceland

This holiday weekend, 42.8% of Icelanders plan to travel within the country, Vísir reports. Verslunarmannahelgi, or Merchant’s Weekend, is the busiest holiday weekend of the year in Iceland when it comes to domestic travel.

The data comes from a survey conducted by Zenter on behalf of Fréttablaðið. Respondents in the 18-24 year age group were most likely to travel: 65% of the group planned to hit the road this weekend. In comparison, only 35% of those aged 55-64 were planning to travel during the holiday.

Of those who plan to travel, 5.1% are headed for the Þjóðhátíð festival in the Westman Islands, the country’s largest annual multi-day festival. While many other festivals are on offer around the country, 25.4% of respondents said they were not planning to attend an organised event during their travels.