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).

Another Record-Breaking June for Icelandic Tourism

tourists in reykavík

The latest numbers from Statistics Iceland show that June 2023 saw some 1,176,600 overnight stays in Iceland. This is a 17% increase from June 2022, which saw 1,012,300 overnight stays.

Of the total overnight hotel stays, foreign travellers accounted for 77% of the total, or 903,400. Domestic travellers accounted for 267,200 of these overnight stays.

Hotels and guesthouses accounted for some 703,000 or around 60% of total stays. 468,000 overnight stays, or around 40% of the June total, were registered in other accommodations, such as camp grounds and Airbnb apartments.

Airbnb alone is estimated to have accounted for 200,000 overnight stays last month.

Statistics Iceland notes that since last year, the supply of accommodation has remained more or less unchanged. The new 2023 June numbers show a 1.3% increase in occupancy rates across the nation.

So far, Iceland has seen just over 4 million overnight stays this year. The previous cumulative total for June was in 2018, with 3,534,000 accumulated overnight stays. This is a 15.5% increase from the previous record.

Statistics Iceland notes the following: "Due to abrupt changes in supply and occupancy rates, estimation for other types of accommodation than hotels is currently subject to a higher degree of uncertainty than usual and should therefore be taken with a special precaution until final numbers are available."

2023 May Be a Record Year for the Icelandic Tourism Industry

Tourists iceland Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon

The CEO of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association says 2023 could be a bigger year for tourism than the record years before the pandemic, Vísir reports. New figures from Statistics Iceland show dramatic growth in the industry between 2020 and 2022. Tourism as a proportion of Iceland’s GDP amounted to 7.8% in 2022 compared to 4.8% in 2021. It averaged around 8.2% between 2016 and 2018, but this year is likely to break that record.

Each tourist spending more

The summer tourism season is beginning and Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, CEO of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, says all indicators for the industry’s success are good no matter where you look. “For example the consumption of tourists in the country, which is the highest we’ve ever seen, on variable prices. And that in a year where we have fewer tourists than before, which tells us that the value each tourist is leaving behind is greater than before. Which is also what we want to see,” Jóhannes Þór stated.

Tourism capacity is relative

Asked whether the number of tourists is reaching the maximum that Iceland can receive, Jóhannes Þór answered: “All questions on how many tourists we are able to receive are very relative.” For example, whether most tourists stay in the capital area or whether they spread out across the country is one factor that impacts capacity, according to Jóhanness, who also says that Iceland has built up tourism infrastructure successfully in recent years.

“The goal now must be to achieve stability in a sustainable industry that produces enormous amounts of money for the national economy and builds up society for all of us. That is the goal,” Jóhannes stated.

Record Number of Overnight Stays in Iceland in February

Tourists hiking to Sapphire Ice Cave.

A record number of overnight stays were registered in Iceland in February or 575,300. This is a 45% increase from 2022 and a 9.4% increase from 2018, the previous record year.

Hotel accommodation increased in all parts of the country

As noted by Statistics Iceland, a record number of overnight stays were registered in Iceland in February or 575,300. This is a 45% increase from 2022 and a 9.4% increase from 2018, which was the previous record year.

The number of overnight stays in February by foreign tourists accounted for ca. 79% of the total, or around 455,100. This is a 55% increase from February 2022 (i.e. 396,400). By comparison, the overnight stays by Icelanders were ca. 120,100, which is a 15% increase from February 2022 (104,500).

Statistics Iceland also notes that of the 575,300 total overnight stays, 435,700 were spent in hotels and guesthouses and about 139,600 in other types of registered accommodation (apartment accommodation, holiday homes, campsites, etc.). The estimated number of foreign overnight stays in home accommodation, outside the traditional overnight registration, in February was around 75,000.

Overnight stays in hotels in February were 371,900, which is a 37% increase from last year (270,900). Hotel accommodation increased in all parts of the country compared to February 2022. Foreign tourists accounted for 304,900 of overnight stays in hotels, or 82% of the total, while the number of nights spent by Icelanders was 62,300 (18%). The overnight stays of foreign tourists increased by 46% and the overnight stays of Icelanders by 8% when compared to last year.

Lastly, the availability of hotel rooms in February increased by 5% from February 2022. Room occupancy in hotels was 65.9% and increased by 14.9% from the previous year.

New Fees at Jökulsárlón Could Generate Up To ISK 40 Million

jökulsárlón parking fee

Park rangers for Vatnajökull have stated that the necessary infrastructure will soon be in place to introduce fees at Jökulsárlón, one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations.

The new fees would be introduced this June, and could potentially generate some ISK 40 million [$285,000; €266,000].

Read More: 72% of Icelanders Support Tourism Fee

According to rangers for South Iceland, new cameras will be set up in April of this year and will be tested for two months, before becoming fully operational this June.

Future visitors to Jökulsárlón in private passenger vehicles can expect to pay ISK 1,000 [$7.10; €6,70] for parking, though visitors who also visit Skaftafell will receive a 50% discount. Camping fees will not be included in this amount.

The introduction of a parking fee at Jökulsárlón has been discussed as a possibility for some time. Initial proposals first came in 2017, when the Icelandic state acquired all of the land surrounding the popular glacial lagoon. According to RÚV, nearly 1 million tourists visit the area annually. This volume of visitors means that the area is expensive to maintain.

In Focus: Privately Owned Tourist Sites

Although by Icelandic law, all land is open to the public, increasing numbers of visitors to Iceland have raised concerns in recent years about the sustainability of the tourism industry. Notably, these laws, known traditionally in English as “the right to wander,” do not cover services, such as parking and bathrooms.


Chinese Tourists to Return After Resumption of Group Tours

túristi tourist ferðamaður tourism

The Chinese government has decided to allow the sale of cross-border group tours to an additional 40 countries, including Iceland, beginning on March 15. The move forms a part of the easing of travel restrictions in China following a pandemic-induced travel ban, RÚV reports.

List of countries unpublished as of yet

China’s outbound travel saw a rapid rebound after the country eased restrictions on cross-border group tours on February 6; the sale of flights to and from China had been largely suspended since 2020.

RÚV reported yesterday that the Chinese government had decided to lift restrictions on forty other countries, including Iceland, beginning on March 15. This means that tourist groups from China will once again be a common sight in Iceland.

He Rulong, China’s ambassador to Iceland, told RÚV that Chinese society had returned to normal after the pandemic and was experiencing strong economic growth – adding that it was aiming to further increase economic growth in the near future: “We plan to increase the number of jobs by 12 million. So it is a priority for us to accommodate consumption demands among Chinese consumers.”

The second list of countries to which package tours will be allowed to be sold has yet to be published, RÚV notes, so it is not clear which other countries will benefit from the increased freedom of movement of Chinese citizens.

Slower comparative growth of Chinese tourists

Chinese travellers composed the fourth largest group of tourists in Iceland in 2019. They have, however, been nearly invisible since then. Despite the number of tourists from other countries increasing again last year, the number of Chinese tourists was relatively scant (see below figures):

2019: 114,000
2020: 19,700
2021: 6,500
2022: 23,70

In January, many European countries imposed restrictions on Chinese tourists at the recommendation of the European Council. There was no reason to take such measures here in Iceland. He Rulong says this fact influenced the Chinese government’s decision.

“I believe that is the reason why China chose Iceland to be among these 40 countries.”

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.

Children Under 12 Banned Entry to Eruption Site

Meradalir eruption hikers August 4 2022

Icelandic authorities have decided to ban children under 12 years of age from visiting the ongoing eruption in Meradalir, on the Reykjanes peninsula. RÚV reports that the decision was made at the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management meeting with other response teams today. The eruption site is closed to all visitors today for the third day in a row due to weather conditions.

The Meradalir eruption began last Wednesday afternoon, near the site of the Geldingadalir eruption of last year. Search and rescue crews have been stationed at the site ever since to direct visitors and respond in case of emergencies. While most visitors to the eruption follow directions, there have been cases of those who do not respect closures or visit the site with young children, putting themselves in danger.

Children are particularly vulnerable to gas poisoning at eruption sites as they are both more sensitive to the gases and more easily exposed to heavy gases that gather close to the ground. Furthermore, the hike to the Meradalir eruption is long and challenging even for experienced adults.

Exhaustion and hypothermia

Search and rescue crews came to the assistance of a couple with two preschool-aged children at the eruption site last Saturday. The four were on their way back from the eruption, when tour guide Hermann Valsson encountered them in distress, the parents exhausted and the children with hypothermia.

The father initially tried to refuse help due to concerns that he would be fined or charged for the assistance. Hermann stated that it is locals’ responsibility to ensure that foreign visitors are well-informed about the conditions they are setting out into, as well as that the assistance of search and rescue crews is always free.

Hike not for beginners

The hike to the Meradalir eruption is around 14 kilometres [8.7 miles] round trip. The hike includes significant elevation as well as difficult terrain and is not for the inexperienced or those who are unprepared.

Read more about what you need to know when visiting the Meradalir eruption.

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). 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.

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.