Icelanders Flock to Tenerife to Find Sunshine, More Icelanders

It has been a particularly punishing winter in Iceland this year, but many locals have avoided the blizzards and gales entirely, or at least managed to escape it for a short while. Vísir reports that the Spanish island of Tenerife has become a home away from home for a bustling community of Icelandic expats and tourists who are eager to soak up the southerly sun.

The flight from Iceland to Tenerife takes roughly five hours, with round-trip tickets from Keflavík starting at around ISK 68,000 [$475; €443]. These flights are extremely popular with Icelanders throughout the winter months, so much so that the Icelandic electronics chain Elko started advertising, in Icelandic, in the Tenerife airport over Christmas, hoping to encourage some last-minute gift purchases.

“We set [our billboard] up in December,” said Elko marketing manager Arinbjörn Hauksson. “There’s been a lot of discussion about all these Icelanders who have been flocking to Tenerife. So we saw an opportunity on the table and secured a billboard in the best place to get traffic, take advantage of this whole stream of Icelanders who are going out there and then coming back home.”

Elko’s decision to use Icelandic in the advertisement caught locals’ eyes, and certainly got people talking, but it’s not even the first time that Icelanders have advertised in the Tenerife airport. Last April, Hildur Björnsdóttir, an Independence Party representative on the Reykjavík City Council, announced her candidacy for the upcoming council elections in the Tenerife Airport.

Two thousand Icelanders a week

Sigvaldi Kaldalón, known as Svali, the owner of Tenerife Tours, does a bustling business with tourists of all stripes, not just Icelanders. He says the overwhelming number of visitors to the island overwhelms the existing infrastructure, which is a problem back in Iceland, too.

“This island is literally bursting with tourists, not just Icelanders, but tourists in general,” he said. “The main concern of Canarians is not having a sufficiently organized infrastructure, which is something we don’t have in Iceland, either.”

“Last year, 8.3 million tourists came [to Tenerife], and it’s looking to be even more this year,” he said. “I’d say there are close to 2,000 Icelanders every week. Icelanders are mainly here for the weather, just want to relax a bit. It’s a totally different tempo here.”

But whatever infrastructure problems might exist, they don’t seem to be putting Icelanders off in the least. In fact, many Icelanders make the trip annually.

“I’ve been here 14 times, I’m just addicted to it,” Ólöf Ingbergsdóttir said with a laugh. “A person could spend their old age here, I think it’s heading that direction.”

“It’s just so nice, the weather’s great,” said Þorgerður Gísladóttir, whose family was on their 13th visit to the island. “It’s wonderful to come with the kids, everyone can just do what they want and we don’t have to wear coats.”

“It’s fabulous, I’ve got to come here every single year,” agreed Bjarni Sigurjónsson from a sun lounger on the beach.

Just like Sunday lunch at grandma’s

Icelanders may be coming for the distinctly un-Icelandic weather, but they can still have a taste of home while in Tenerife. There are at least four Icelandic restauranteurs on the island. Níels Hafsteinsson is one of them. Níels owns several bars and restaurants and has 45 employees working for him. Icelanders are some of his most frequent customers.

“Yes, like tonight,” he said gesturing around one of his restaurants during a recent interview. “Three out of ten tables are Icelanders. It’s a lot fun.”

Níels’ Icelandic diners were happy to be able to patronize an Icelander’s business while in Tenerife and found it comforting to be able to go somewhere where everything felt like home.

“It’s just like going to Sunday lunch at grandma’s,” said customer Ásgeir Ingólfsson. “The rhubarb jam is missing, maybe, but the food is great.”

Direct Flight from Egilsstaðir to Tenerife to be Offered in the Fall

Direct charter flights from Egilsstaðir in East Iceland to Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands will be available starting this fall. Mbl.is reports that a similar, limited-time package vacation will be offered from Akureyri to Tenerife in January 2020. The travel agency scheduling these flights says this is an opportunity to better serve Icelandic travelers who live in rural areas.

This will be the first time that a direct flight to Tenerife from Egilsstaðir will be possible, although Ásdís Pétursdóttir, the spokesperson for VITA, says the travel agency offering the trips says that it has made a point of scheduling special getaways departing from Iceland’s rural airports. “In order to serve our customers in the regions, VITA has regularly offered flights to various foreign destinations from both Akureyri and Egilsstaðir, but up until now, these have mainly been city breaks.” She noted that the trip from Egilsstaðir to Tenerife has generated a lot of interest and is almost sold out.

Jakob Ómarsson, the marketing director for VITA says that similar trips from Akureyri to Tenerife have been offered previously and he hopes that these will be able to be offered more regularly in the future, although it is currently possible to say how often would be feasible. “We have, at any rate, a great interest in serving our customers in the regions and offering them direct flights to the sun,” he said.

Twice as Many Travellers Offsetting Their Carbon Emissions

About 100 people have offset the carbon emissions from their flights to and from Iceland so far this year, which is already double the number of people who did so in 2018. RÚV reports that four thousand trees must be planted on one hectare [2.47 acres] in order to accomplish this balance.

Travelers wishing to offset the carbon emissions generated by their travels can register on the website of the Kolviður Fund. The fund was established by the Icelandic Forestry Association and the Icelandic Environment Association with the support of the Icelandic government and aims to “reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere by increasing the carbon sequestration of forest ecosystems, binding the soil and reducing soil erosion, increasing public awareness and the awareness of companies in regard to greenhouse gas emissions, and promoting education on related issues.”

In addition to individual travelers, as many as 60 companies have also registered to offset their own carbon footprints through the website. “We’re figuring on planting around 150,000 trees this summer around Úlfljótsvatn lake,” explained Kolviður chairman Reynir Kristinsson. “It was around 100,000 last year.” It could take around 60 years for trees to achieve full carbon sequestration, he continued, but the plants will be considerably effective after even just ten years.

Two flights to Tenerife from Iceland generates as much pollution as one family car over the course of an entire year. As Icelanders become more habitual travelers and take a growing number of trips abroad, an increasing number of people are experiencing flugskömm, or flight shame, over the negative effects that increased air travel has on the environment.

Eighty-three percent of Icelanders traveled abroad last year—the highest percentage of citizens to do so since 2009. Even so, multiple surveys have shown that Icelanders are less willing to change their travel habits out of concern for the environmental impact than they are to change their consumption habits at home. 52.6% of respondents said they were planning a city break abroad in 2019, 43.5% were planning a holiday in a “sunny country,” and 34.7% said they’d be visiting friends or relatives who live abroad.