16% Year-On-Year Growth in Overnight Tourism Stays for 2023

Tourists walk carefully during extreme weather in Reykjavík

In 2023, overnight stays in Iceland increased by 16% year-on-year, with Icelanders accounting for 22% of these stays. Looking ahead, 2024 is forecasted to be a record-breaking year for tourism, potentially surpassing the previous peak in 2018.

Icelanders accounted for 22% of overnight stays

According to initial figures for overnight stays in 2023, there were nearly 10 million overnight stays at all types of registered accommodations, compared to 8.5 million in 2022, representing a 16% increase year-on-year, Statistics Iceland reports

Overnight stays by Icelanders accounted for about 22% of all stays, or approximately 2.1 million, which is a 9% increase from the previous year. Overnight stays by foreign tourists were about 78% of all stays, or around 7.8 million compared to 6.6 million the year before.

In 2023, there were about 6.6 million overnight stays in hotels and guesthouses, and 3.4 million in other types of registered accommodations (apartment rentals, holiday homes, campgrounds, etc.). The total number of hotel stays was about 5.3 million, a 12% increase from the previous year. As noted by Statistics Iceland, all regions of the country saw an increase in overnight hotel stays.

Moderate increase expected in 2024

In a letter published on December 31, 2023, Bjarnheiður Hallsdóttir, Chairperson of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF), noted that forecasts predict a moderate increase in tourists in 2024. If these predictions hold, 2024 will set a new record in tourism in Iceland, exceeding the previous record from 2018.

“The year that has just concluded was predominantly positive for the Icelandic tourism industry. It seemed poised to become the first year since 2018 without major disruptions to the sector’s operations, a much-needed respite after the challenges of the preceding years. However, towards the year’s end, seismic events in Reykjanes cast a shadow over this progress. As a result, demand fell, and tourism companies in the vicinity of the seismic activity had to temporarily shut down.”

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.




Record Number of Icelanders Travelled Abroad in October

Nearly 72,000 Icelanders travelled abroad in October. Never before have as many Icelanders departed the country in October since measurements began. At the same time, 159,000 foreign travellers departed from Keflavík Airport in October, most of whom were American.

A strong desire to “get moving”

The Icelandic Tourist Board reported yesterday that 72,000 Icelanders – a fifth of the total population – travelled abroad in October. Never, since measurements began, have as many Icelanders departed from Keflavík Airport in the month of October.

“This confirms that Icelanders behave just like people from other countries. Their will to travel has grown, with a strong desire to get moving having gradually accumulated,” Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, Director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, told Fréttablaðið.

Pre-pandemic levels in 2024

The Icelandic Tourist Board also reported that nearly 159,000 foreign travellers departed from Keflavík Airport in October. According to information from Isavia, this represents the fourth most numerous departures from Iceland in October since measurements began. Departures from Iceland in 2022 have generally amounted to ca. 90% of departures in 2018, suggesting that air traffic will soon reach record highs.

“It’s gradual success and nothing else,” Jóhannas Þór observed. “Demand this year has been much greater than expected,” he added, noting that it would take more than one summer to recover from the effects of pandemic-imposed social restrictions.

“The problem is, and will remain, multifaceted, and relates to staffing shortages and debt accumulation; the financial state of companies in the travel sector won’t improve overnight. We estimate that we’ll be where we were before the pandemic in 2024.”

Travellers from the United States accounted for the largest share of tourists in Iceland in October, or approximately a third of all tourists.

Iceland Needs to Import Cooks, Servers, and Tour Guides, Says Industry Expert

Dill restaurant Michelin star

Iceland needs to import chefs, wait staff, tour guides and other specialized workers to support the tourism industry during the current boom, says Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, Managing Director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF). Mbl.is reports.

“We need cooks, we need waiters, we need all kinds of specially trained staff, specialized tour guides, etc,” remarked Jóhannes Þór in an interview on the news program Dagmál on Friday. “If we just look at cooks and waiters, there are a couple different dimensions to the problem.”

At the base level, he continued, there just aren’t enough people in Iceland going into training programs for these professions, which means that there is currently a shortage of qualified professionals on the local job market. Jóhannes Þór said the government should be putting more effort into drawing students into these programs and advertising the future opportunities that would be available to people who completed these courses of study.

“But that won’t be enough,” he said, particularly in the present moment. In order to meet its present needs, Iceland needs “to import a group of cooks and trained waiters” right now. But while Jóhannes Þór wasn’t willing to name a specific number of trained service professionals he thought Iceland should be seeking to bring in from abroad, he would concede that “clearly several dozen” are needed at least.

Icelandic Travel Association Publishes Road Map to Recovery

Jóhannes Þór Skúlason

The Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF) has published 11 proposals to accelerate the rebound of the tourism sector. The proposals are directed at the government set to accede this fall, with Parliamentary elections taking place on September 25.

The basis for economic recovery

An association of Icelandic tourism companies, the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF) aims to promote the common interests of its members and to support the improvement of their services and operations. Looking ahead to the upcoming elections, SAF has published a so-called road map containing 11 proposals on how the government can expedite the revival of the tourism industry, which is the “precondition of society’s economic recovery,” according to the association.

In addition to the proposals, SAF has also launched the website vidspyrnan.is, which features a dashboard of indicators, designed to measure the government’s progress in meeting the aforementioned goals.

11 proposals

The proposals are geared toward the following aspects of the Icelandic tourism industry:

  1. Operational environment (among the proposals is an abolition of the overnight-stay tax, an aspect of improving the competitiveness of local companies).
  2. Global marketing (including increased funding to Business Iceland to help promote Iceland as an international travel destination)
  3. Debt (the resolution of debt, e.g. the deferring the payment of duties)
  4. Supervision of illegal operations (aiming to limit the illegal operations of foreign entities, which hampers the success of local companies)
  5. Governance (streamlining the cooperation between different government institutions, for example)
  6. Data collection, processing, and research (studying the effects of the tourism sector on the economy as a whole)
  7. Luxury, health, and incentive tourism (direct support for companies within these sub-industries, among other things)
  8. Rural employment opportunities (incentives to increase the activities of travel companies beyond the Greater Reykjavík Area)
  9. Qualification and education (permanent funding for the Tourism Skills Center)
  10. Tourist destinations (support to municipalities to improve facilities at tourist destinations)
  11. The local market (improving transport between different parts of the country)

“Wont Happen on its Own”

In an interview with RÚV, Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, Director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, stated that the road map was the travel industry’s contribution to the call for a quick recovery following a pandemic-induced recession. “We hope to demonstrate, with these proposals, what is required if we are to achieve as quick a recovery as we believe is possible.”

When asked if the travel industry requires such “privileges” as called for in the road map – given how quickly the tourism sector seems to be rebounding, with signs of a resurgence already apparent – Jóhannes pushed back against the term: “As regards the section on the operational environment, for example, it’s not only about travel companies – it’s about the economy in its entirety. It’s this idea that although we’re beginning to see a resurgence, such a thing won’t happen on its own.”

Jóhannes concluded by saying that every report concerning the recovery of the economy assumes that the travel industry will lead the way, and that a failure to act could prove costly. “The tourism sector is that industry that can best help us accelerate our recovery. This is not to say that the tourism industry should take over the entire economy. Not at all.”


Two-Week Quarantine or Testing Fee of ISK 15,000 for Tourists

tourists on perlan

Travellers arriving in Iceland will have to pay ISK 15,000 ($113/€100) to be tested for COVID-19 if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine upon entering the country, RÚV reports. There are some caveats: the testing fee will not go into effect immediately and children who were born in 2005 and after are not required to be tested.

Some within the tourism industry argue that the testing fee is too high. Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, managing director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF), says that the fee will discourage tourism to Iceland. He suggested that a fee of ISK 3,000-4,000 ($23-30/€20-27) would be more appropriate.

“We think the fee is far too high and will clearly have a negative impact on trips to Iceland this summer,” Jóhannes remarked, noting that travel companies and Icelandair have already had a very high number of cancellations. He also said that a number of SAF’s member companies have seconded this assessment, saying that their customers are not willing to pay such a high fee. And with fewer tourists coming to Iceland, Jóhannes says, companies will be able to hire fewer employees.

As it stands, however, travellers arriving in Iceland will have a two-week grace period after the Icelandic borders open on June 15 during which no fee will be assessed for a COVID-19 test. Therefore, adults arriving between June 15 and June 29 will be tested for free. Those who do not want to pay for a test have the option of going into quarantine for two weeks.

Beer Spa Receives Innovation Award

The Bjóböðin Beerspa and Resaurant in Árskógssandur, North Iceland has received the Innovation Award given annually by the the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF), RÚV reports. The award was presented by First Lady Eliza Reid at a ceremony celebrating the 20th anniversary of SAF on Saturday night.

Agnes Sigurðardóttir and Ólafur Þröstur Ólafsson, who also own and operate the Kaldi Brewery which located just next to the baths, operate Bjórböðin with their son and daughter-in-law. The beer baths utilize brewing byproducts which would otherwise be disposed of – live beer yeast, hops, water, beer oil and beer salt – but which have healthful properties for bathers, such as tightening hair follicles and cleansing hair and skin.

Bjóböðin opened earlier this summer and has already become an important part of the tourism infrastructure in North Iceland, says SAF, as it has drawn numerous visitors intrigued by its innovative concept to the area.