Icelandic Tourist Board Report: Second-Busiest Summer on Record

tourists on perlan

A recent report by the Icelandic Tourist Board shows summer 2023 to have been another record year for travel to Iceland.

Approximately 790,000 foreign tourists arrived in the country through Keflavik Airport last summer, about a quarter more than the summer of 2022, making it the second-busiest travel summer since measurements began.

Americans most numerous

Americans were by far the most numerous group of travellers. With around 300,000 in total, they accounted for almost two out of every five tourists.

Other top nations include Germany (60,000 travellers; 7.7% total visits), Poland (52,000 travellers; 6.6% total visits), France (40,000 travellers; 5.1% total visits), and the UK (35,000 travellers; 4.4% total visits).

Of these travellers, the vast majority, about 95% of tourists, were on vacation in Iceland this summer. The remaining 5% were travelling to visit friends and family, on a business trip, or had other reasons for travel.

Capital region most popular

The Reykjavík area continues to be by far the most popular destination among foreign tourists. 90% of travellers visited the Reykjavík area during their travels, due to its proximity to Keflavík International Airport and the services offered.

The South Coast was the second most popular destination, with 79% of travellers visiting. The South Coast was followed by the Reykjanes Peninsula (66%), West Iceland and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula (46%), North Iceland (32%), and East Iceland (28%). The Westfjords were the least popular destination, with only 13% of foreign travellers visiting this remote region of Iceland.

Stable pattern in overnight stays

The report noted that at an average of 8.6 nights, the number of overnight stays has remained the same as in 2022. The trend, however, has been towards increasingly longer stays in Iceland, as an average of 7.5 nights was recorded in 2018, and an average of 7.8 nights in 2019. The report notes that travellers seem to prefer staying in destinations for longer after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Americans were found to spend comparatively less time in Iceland than others, at an average of 6.9 nights. Of the top ten nationalities, German and French travellers had the longest stays, averaging 10.9 nights. Following them were Spanish, Italian, and Dutch tourists with stays ranging from 8.8 to 9.5 nights.

New records

Hotel nights in registered accommodations numbered about 4.3 million for the summer of 2023, an all-time record. This represents an 8.6% increase in hotel nights compared to the summer of 2022. Approximately two out of every five nights were spent in hotels, about 14% in guesthouses, and almost half (46.3%) in other types of accommodations.

The increase in stays in registered accommodations is largely attributable to the increasing preference for longer stays.

Read the full report here (in Icelandic).

137,000 Foreign Passengers Departed Iceland in February

Keflavík Airport

Approximately 137,000 foreign passengers departed from Iceland via Keflavík Airport in February. This is nearly as many foreign passengers who left the country in 2018 when departures were at their peak.

British and American travellers most numerous

According to a press release from the Icelandic Tourist Board, approximately 137,000 foreign passengers departed from Keflavík Airport in February. This number is roughly equivalent to the departures in February 2020 and represents 86% of the peak departures recorded in February 2018. Of the departures, British and American travellers accounted for more than two out of every five (39,000 Icelanders departed from Keflavík in February).

In February, British travellers left Keflavík Airport in the greatest number, or around 39,000 (28.7% of the total). The British were followed by American travellers at nearly 21,000 (15.1% of the total). These two nationalities have consistently been the most frequent departures in February for the past two decades, according to the Icelandic Tourist Board.

Departing German nationals composed the third most numerous departures in February (6.8% of the total), and French travellers were the fourth most numerous (6.7%). These nationalities were followed by the Poles (4.0%), the Irish (3.7%), the Italians (3.4%), the Chinese (2.9%), the Danes (2.7%), and the Spanish (2.2%).

Since the beginning of the year, about 258,000 foreign passengers have left Iceland, while at the same time last year, their departures were about 143,000. In total, departures in January and February this year were about 84% of the departures recorded in the same months in 2018 and 90% of those recorded in 2019.

Four Hotels Shuttered as Wage Negotiations Drag On

Strike efling hotel workers union

As the ongoing wage dispute between the Efling union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) drags on, managers decided to shutter four hotels yesterday. Two additional hotels will be closed tomorrow – and the seventh on Saturday. The Chair of the Association of Companies in Hotel and Accommodation Services (FHG) hopes that the wage dispute will be resolved sooner rather than later.

Heartbreaking having to close again

“It’s an incredible situation in which to find oneself. We have just reopened the hotels after a two-year closure due to the pandemic. The fact that this is happening to us again is heartbreaking,” Kristófer Oliversson, Chair of the Association of Companies in Hotel and Accommodation Services (FHG), stated in an interview with Morgunblaðið.

At the end of January, Efling union members working at seven hotels in the capital area voted in favour of a strike beginning on February 7. After two weeks of strikes, the first four of seven hotels targeted by the first round of strikes were shuttered yesterday. These include Hotel Reykjavík Saga and Hotel Reykjavík Grand, which offer, in total, over 400 rooms.

“It’s admirable that the managers of these hotels have held out for such a long time. They’re trying to keep the other three hotels open,” Kristófer stated. Companies within the hotel and hospitality industry are worried about the consequences of the ongoing Efling strikes and further strikes that are impending.

People will be on the streets

According to an announcement from the Icelandic Tourist Board, a decision has been made to close two additional hotels tomorrow – and a third on Saturday. These are Berjaya Reykjavik Natura Hotel, Hilton Reykjavík Nordica, and Berjaya Reykjavik Marina Hotel. The three hotels offer over 600 rooms. Yesterday morning, an emergency phone line was opened for hotel guests who may require assistance or need help with rebookings.

“People will be out on the streets as the week progresses. That is the situation with which the Icelandic Tourist Board is trying to deal,” Kristófer stated.

He also suggested the establishment of a mass-aid centre on the rationale that it was difficult to stop the flow of visitors. He does not see how to transport a large group of people from one place to another.

“The big booking engines don’t provide us with the necessary information so that we can contact guests directly. They keep this information to themselves so as to sell additional services to the guests. This means that it’s unclear whether visitors can be notified of the closures.”

Barring any unforeseen developments, all Efling members who work in hotels and guesthouses will be on strike at noon on Tuesday. Kristófer told Morgunblaðið that there are currently no plans to close hotels that will be affected by these latest strike actions.

“Of course, we hope that the wage dispute will be resolved,” Kristófer Oliversson concluded.

Record Number of Icelanders Travelled Abroad in January

Icelandair cabin crew

The number of Icelanders who departed from Keflavík Airport in January was 41,500. Never before have so many Icelanders flown abroad in January, according to the Icelandic Tourist Board.

“We’re on the right track”

As noted in a press release from the Icelandic Tourist Board on Friday, 121,000 foreign passengers departed from Iceland in January. This is roughly equivalent to the number of departures in January 2020 and about 82% of foreign departures in January 2018, when numbers were at their peak.

In an interview with Fréttablaðið on Saturday, Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, Director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, stated that Iceland was “on the right track” in terms of demand. “It’s shaping up to be a good year in tourism because the low season, right now, in the middle of winter, has been promising. It seems to be similar to 2018, and it looks like it will be a very good summer,” Jóhannes remarked.

Almost half of the departing passengers were British and Americans. These nationalities have composed, by far, the most numerous group of people arriving in January over the last two decades, or since measurements began, the Icelandic Tourist Board noted.

The press release also noted that 41,500 Icelanders departed from Keflavík Airport in January. Never before have so many Icelanders flown abroad in January. Among those destinations that Icelanders have sought out is Tenerife.




2.3 Million Tourists to Visit Iceland in 2023, Model Predicts

tourists on perlan

A predictive model expects 1.7 million tourists to visit Iceland through Keflavík Airport this year. The model expects this number to increase by 600,000 in 2023.

Predictive models

Dr. Gunnar Haraldsson, founder and CEO of the economic consultancy firm Intellecon, has led the development of a statistical model employed, among other things, to forecast tourist visits to Iceland. The project began in the fall of 2020.

Yesterday, Gunnar addressed the audience at a meeting hosted by the Icelandic Tourist Board. In his lecture, he introduced the model and some of its predictions, among them – that 1.7 million tourists would visit Iceland in 2022.

Speaking to RÚV, Gunnar stated that the model predicted 600,000 more tourists to visit Iceland in 2023: “Next year, we predict that number to increase to 2.3 million. All of this comes with caveats since there are a number of uncertainties that can impact the model.”

Alongside forecasting visits, Gunnar Haraldsson and his team also predict revenue and overnight stays. “We’re looking into credit-card turnover. The model predicts that tourists will spend ca. ISK 250 billion ($1.7 billion / €1.8 billion) this year and ISK 330 billion ($2.3 billion / €2.3 billion) next year. And so you can say that tourists spend a considerable amount on products and services in Iceland. Our numbers are predicated on data from local credit card companies,” Gunnar told RÚV.

Gunnar added that winter tourism was picking up steam, with some indications that seasonal fluctuations are gradually evening out. Overnight stays in 2022 are predicted to reach 4.5 million but will rise to 5.5 million next year. The model further predicts that 3.5 million tourists will visit Iceland in the year 2030. As noted in the press release by the Icelandic Tourist Board, this would mean a 50% increase from 2018, which was a record year for tourist visits to Iceland.

US Citizens Account for a Third of All Airport Departures in September

Travellers Keflavik airport

One hundred seventy-seven thousand people departed from Keflavík international airport in September, new data from the Icelandic Tourist Board shows. This makes last month the fourth busiest September the airport has seen since the Tourist Board started keeping such records. Last month, departures at Leif Eiríksson International Airport were 76% of what they were at their peak in 2018.

US citizens accounted for a third of all departures

Most of September’s recorded departures can be attributed to ten nations, with Americans making up the largest proportion of travellers, or 30.1%. All told, 53,315 Americans departed from Keflavík last month. Americans have made up Iceland’s largest block of foreign visitors since 2013 and this year’s numbers are similar to those recorded in 2017.

Germany came in a distant second, with 15,965 departures (9%) in September, followed by 10,791 travellers (6%) from the UK, 8,538 travellers from Spain, and 8,345 from France (roughly 4.7% each). The top ten was then rounded out by Poland (7,639 departures; 4.3%), The Netherlands (7,267; 4.1%), Canada (7,003; 3.9%), Italy (5,887; 3.3%), and Denmark (5,439; 3%).

Over a million foreign tourists since the start of the year

As an increasing number of people return to international travel post-COVID, tourism in Iceland is clearly on the rebound. Since the start of the year, 1.3 million foreign travellers have departed from Iceland, compared to 445,000 departures between January and September of last year. Even so, this year’s numbers are about 277,000 departures short of what they were in 2019.

Icelanders travelling in record numbers

Roughly 60,000 Icelanders travelled abroad in September, making it locals’ most-travelled September ever. Since January, 441,000 Icelanders have departed from Keflavík, which is 95% of the total number of Icelanders who flew abroad during the same time period in 2017, 87% of the total who flew abroad between January and September 2018, and 94% of the same count in 2019.

All Building Occupants Must Approve Quarantine Rentals

Airbnb properties in houses with multiple apartments may not be rented out for quarantine purposes without the consent of all building residents, RÚV reports. This was determined by the Homeowner’s Association at the request of the Icelandic Tourist Board, which has been compiling a list of accommodations available to people while in quarantine, for example, between COVID-19 screenings upon arrival to the country.

The Tourist Board received 385 responses to its inquiry regarding quarantine-ready properties, most of which were from hotels and guesthouses. At least one respondent, however, was known to own an apartment in a multiple-residence house which they rent via Airbnb. As such, the Tourist Board reached out to the Homeowner’s Association chair and Supreme Court attorney Sigurður Helgi Guðjónsson to find out what the parameters of renting such a property for the purposes of quarantine might be. Given the risks and inconvenience posed by one occupant of a building renting out a unit for quarantine purposes, Sigurður Helgi determined that the rights of the other occupants to refuse to allow a quarantine rental outstripped those of the apartment owner to rent the property.

The Directorate of Health has set conditions for what accommodations may be used for quarantine, as well as services and assistance that may be provided to those in quarantine by the renter. The fact that so many hotels and guesthouses are prepared to meet these conditions and open their properties for quarantine use says a lot about the current market, notes Elías Bj. Gíslason, the Icelandic Tourist Board’s Director of Quality and Development.

“Naturally, everyone’s just trying to save themselves right now.”


Low Border Infection Rate During Iceland’s ‘German and Danish Summer’

tourists on perlan

The rate of active COVID-19 infection diagnosed at the border is currently .04%, RÚV reports, or 39 active COVID-19 cases out of 86,000 tests that have been conducted for incoming air and ferry passengers since screenings were initiated on July 15.

In addition to the 39 active cases, 104 were found to have old infections and antibodies to the virus; there are three screenings whose results are still pending. There have also been 25,000 passengers arriving from ‘safe’ countries—Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Germany—who are exempted from COVID-19 border screenings and not included in the figures.

A lot more Danes, a lot fewer Americans

It’s been an unusual and very tourist-light summer in Iceland, with Danish and German nationals making up the majority of foreign travellers. Somewhat surprising is that while there’s been a significant decrease in the number of visitors from nine out the top ten countries whose residents typically visit Iceland, there was a substantial increase in the number of Danish tourists in July. Statistics published by the Iceland Tourist Board show a 32.7% increase, in fact, or 9,949 Danish visitors this July, versus 7,497 in July of last year. There was a 51.4% drop in the number of German tourists this summer, but Germans still account for the second-highest number of foreign visitors this July: 9,220 (versus 18,968 in July 2019). It is a significant jump then down to the third-largest group of foreign visitors this July; 3,181 Polish nationals visited last month, versus 10,429 in July 2019. “This is clearly the German and Danish summer,” noted Skarphéðinn Berg Steinarsson, director of the Icelandic Tourist Board.

Perhaps even more bracing are the figures for the tourists who aren’t visiting Iceland this year, particularly travellers from North America and Asia, which are both very important tourist bases for Iceland. For instance, 65,552 Americans visited Iceland last July; this year, only 362 did. Last July, 15,063 Chinese tourists visited, and 907 tourists from Japan; this July, only 136 Chinese tourists visited and only 15 from Japan. Overall, the visitor numbers are quite stark: there were 231,281 visitors total in July 2019, down to 45,614 in July 2020. (See the Icelandic Tourist Board’s full ‘2020 versus 2019’ tourist numbers here.)

Icelanders not travelling abroad this year

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed Icelanders’ travel habits, too, of course. There has been an almost 80% drop in Icelanders departing from the Keflavík airport this year. Last year, just over 60,000 Icelanders travelled abroad, this year, only 13,300.

There are some silver linings, however. Skarphéðinn Berg says that European tourists and Icelanders travelling domestically tend to spend more time further out in the countryside, and in less frequented parts of the country.


Foreign Passengers Departing from Keflavík Down by 18.4%

Keflavík Airport

According to a press release published Wednesday by the Icelandic Tourist Board, approximately 163,000 foreign passengers departed from Keflavík Airport in October, roughly 36,000 fewer than last year (a decrease of 18.4%).

The press release also notes that American tourists account for the greatest decrease of departing passengers in October. 25,000 fewer American passengers departed from Keflavík Airport this October compared to October 2018 (a 42% decrease).

In the larger context, the October decline is not unusual. Every month of 2019 has followed a similar trend. There were 5.8% fewer departing passengers in January 2019, 6.9% in February, 1.7%, n March, 18.5% in April, 23.6% in May, 16.7% in June, 17% in July, 13.5% in August, and 20.7% in September.

Americans account for the greatest number of departing passengers, or approximately one fifth. British passengers were the second most numerous (12.6%).

Approximately 1.7 million foreign passengers have departed from Iceland via Keflavík Airport in 2019 – or 14.7% fewer passengers than last year.

Tourists Decreased by 6.9% in February

Keflavík Airport

Departures of foreign tourists from Keflavík Airport decreased by some 11,000 individuals, or 6.9% in February 2019 compared to the same month last year. The data comes from a joint press release from the Icelandic Tourist Board and Isavia.

UK and US citizens were the most numerous groupsof foreign visitors last month, representing 45.3% of all departures. Travellers of both nationalities have decreased, however. Some 9% fewer UK citizens and 19% fewer US citizens visited Iceland in February 2019 than February 2018.

Some 288,000 foreign travellers have departed from Keflavík Airport since January 1 of this year, a decrease of 6.4% compared to the same period last year.