Puffin Population Declining More Rapidly than Previously Believed

puffins iceland

The Icelandic puffin population has shrunk by 70% in the last thirty years. The Managing Director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF) has stated that this is bad news for the ecosystem and for companies within the tourist sector, who have marketed the puffin as a kind of national symbol.

Decline much worse than previously believed

Iceland plays host to a significant portion of the world’s puffins, with approximately 20% of the global population nesting in the Westman Islands every year. While the Icelandic puffin population may not be as substantial as that of other bird species in the country, it has experienced a substantial decline over the past thirty years.

In an interview with RÚV, biologist Erpur Snær Hansen revealed that the latest data indicates a staggering 70% decline in the puffin population since 1995, surpassing the previously believed figure of 40%.

“We hadn’t analysed population trends from such an early period before, and it was shocking to discover that the decline was much more severe than previously estimated,” Erpur stated.

While puffin populations naturally fluctuate over time, the recent measurements unveiled an unprecedented pattern. “This recent decline appears to be distinct. This consistent delay in nesting and poor breeding is unprecedented in the 140-year history we have been studying.”

The primary cause of this decline stems from a scarcity of food for the birds, which can be attributed to rising sea temperatures. Additionally, puffin hunting accounts for at least 10% of the population decrease. Erpur emphasised that puffin hunting is not sustainable, despite recent declines in its prevalence. “Generally speaking, hunting declining populations is not a good philosophy.”

When asked about the potential ban on puffin hunting, Erpur responded:

“This spring, there was a consideration, in collaboration with the Environment Agency, to have scientists assess the impact of a sales ban because protecting this species is a challenging endeavour. This form of hunting, tied to land ownership, appears to have a peculiar exemption from common sense.”

Bad news for Icelandic tourism

In an interview with Vísir, Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, the Managing Director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF), highlighted the negative consequences of the declining puffin population, particularly for the tourism industry:

“Naturally, this is detrimental to the ecosystem and to the tourism industry, too, which has embraced the puffin as its emblem. The puffin is an incredibly beautiful and unique bird. When people visit Iceland, being able to witness puffin nests in places like Borgarfjörður Eystri, Reynisjfara, West Iceland, and the Westman Islands enhances their experience. It would be truly unfortunate if the population fails to recover.”

Jóhannes further emphasised that some tourists specifically travel to Iceland for the opportunity to see puffins: “It is quite possible that individuals come here solely to observe the puffin, especially those from countries where the puffin is protected and, therefore, less visible.”

The constant changes in the biosphere can significantly impact tourism, as Jóhannes noted: “We have already witnessed changes in the distribution of other bird species, such as arctic terns. These developments raise various concerns.”

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.

Staffing Shortages May Counteract Tourism Growth

tourists on perlan

A new forecast by Isavia projects that 5.7 million passengers will pass through Keflavík Airport in 2022. According to the Director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, the tourism industry must hire between seven and nine thousand foreign workers to meet demand.

A shortage of waiters and chefs

On Wednesday, Isavia – a company that handles the operation and development of all airports in Iceland – released its 2022 passenger forecast. The forecast, the first since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, projects that the total number of passengers passing through Keflavík Airport will be 5.7 million.

Following the report’s publication, RÚV interviewed the Director of the Association of Companies in Hotel and Accommodation Services (FHG), Kristófer Óliversson, who stated that staffing shortages in the sector would mean that hotels and guesthouses would be unable to meet demand in some areas of the country. “There are always regions that are difficult and have been difficult, but we’ve seen improvement year on year. Continued development means a greater likelihood of available rooms.”

According to Kristófer, a shortage of waiters and chefs is common among associated companies, given that many have abandoned their jobs during the pandemic. Although a few have returned, new hires account for ca. 70-80% of staff today. Kristófer also observed that the tourism industry would need time to recover after the pandemic. Despite improving forecasts, the sector had been hit hardest by the pandemic.

A shortage of seven to nine thousand employees

Addressing the near future of the tourism sector, Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, Director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, told RÚV that improving prospects were certainly good; nevertheless, conditions could arise wherein fewer travelers could secure desired services, with staffing shortages playing a significant role.

“In general, I’d say that a great many who worked in tourism before the pandemic have now left the industry: ca. 9 thousand people were gone at the end of 2021 when compared to 2019, half of them Icelandic and the other half of foreign extraction,” Jóhannes Þór observed.

Aside from a staff shortage in the restaurant sector, there are not enough guides to meet demand. As noted by RÚV, data from Statistics Iceland indicates that there were over 33 thousand employees in the tourism industry before the pandemic. This number plummeted with the onset of COVID-19, and unemployment rose. According to Jóhannes Þór, these workers have not returned to these jobs, especially Icelanders, which means more foreign employees would need to be hired with the concomitant training costs.

“If we take a broad view, I would say that to meet demand, this year and the next, we’re short between seven to nine thousand foreign workers, and that’s about two thousand more than before the pandemic.”

As noted by RÚV, the high season may also see a shortage of rental cars. Data from the Icelandic Transport Authority indicates that there are fewer rental cars in the country today when compared to before the pandemic. As dealerships have not imported enough cars, some rental companies, like Bílaleiga Akureyrar, e.g., have begun importing cars themselves to meet demand.

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.”