A regular critic questioned, why on earth, would holidaymakers consider going to visit Iceland, or even use it as a transit or connection point. Well the figures seem to speak for themselves. Since the year 2000, Iceland has tripled their long stay visitor arrivals and in 2014 they welcomed 998,600 people from overseas. Not bad for a population of around 330,000. This included 180,503 from the UK, 152,104 from the USA, 85,915 from Germany and 58,293 from France. The average spend was ISK 158,914 or roughly US$1,339. My calculator does not have enough zeros to do this computation, but it would appear that tourists visiting Iceland generated more than US$1.34 billion in 2014.
What I found especially interesting is that the Iceland Tourist Board have anatomized spending in detail attributed to payment made by foreign credit or debit card and I wonder if we, as a destination, currently perform the same task. For Iceland 30.8 per cent is spent on accommodation and restaurants, 16.4 per cent on shopping, 15.9 per cent on passenger and related services, 16.8 per cent tourism relation services including sightseeing, 2.4 per cent on culture, entertainment and recreational activities, 6.0 per cent on other tourism-related aspects and 11.6 per cent on cash withdrawals.
Overnight stays of foreign visitors totalled 4.4 million in 2014 and what many might find surprising, the average stay was 6 nights in the winter and 10 nights in the summer.
While this is of course only a ‘snapshot’, because it presumably does not include people who book and pay for hotels and other tourism components through travel agents and tour operators in their home countries, it does however give a partial insight to how monies are distributed in the holiday location and I wonder if there are any lessons we can learn from this approach.
Many other comparisons and points of interest can be gleaned from their tourism statistics and I consider it compulsory reading for our policymakers and planners, as no single destination can boast having all the answers.
I will leave readers with one final conclusion though, that when visitors were asked why they chose Iceland, the overwhelming response was nature, with almost 80 per cent of those questioned giving this response.
The second biggest reason given was the people and their perceived hospitality.
The national flag carrier, Icelandair recently launched a programme called Buddies, where staff members including pilots and the Chief Executive Officer volunteer their time, free of charge, to in their words show Iceland ‘through the eyes of a local’ to stay-over visitors.
It’s an amazing concept and one I hope that the Barbados Tourism Product Authority will consider. For many years our small hotel would host what we called a round table dinner weekly, where twelve of our guests would sit around a very large circular table and we would invite a prominent Barbadian with his or her partner and they would simply talk about Barbados from their particular perspective. As well as a complimentary dinner for our speaker and companion, we would pay a small fee, which in most cases found its way to their chosen charity.