From Iceland — Schroedinger’s Tourist: What Makes A Tourist A Tourist

Schroedinger’s Tourist: What Makes A Tourist A Tourist

Published August 24, 2017

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Raffaele Piano

We have often reported on the increasing numbers of tourists in Iceland. One overlooked detail is how we’re defining “tourist” in the first place. Vísir reports that using new polling methodology, Isavia, the company that owns Keflavík Airport, and the Icelandic Tourist Board have concluded that we are overestimating the number of tourists in Iceland by several thousands.

Typically, we add up the number of tourists based on the number of arrivals to Iceland, both by ferry and by air. However, there are problems with this; not everyone who disembarks at Keflavík Airport stays the night in Iceland—some of them don’t even leave the airport but instead take a connecting flight elsewhere—and some of those with foreign passports nonetheless live in this country. Can these people be said to be tourists?

A new poll, taken at the airport between July 24 and August 6 sought to remedy this question by asking arrivals what brought them here. According to the results, 3% of respondents were foreigners who live in Iceland in the short- or longterm; 5% said they were getting a connecting flight without leaving the airport; and 6% said they did some looking around, without staying a night in Iceland, before taking a connecting flight elsewhere. These are people who, until now, had always been counted amongst Iceland’s “tourists.”

To be sure, foreigners living in Iceland and people who don’t leave the airport can safely be called non-tourists, meaning that we may have been overestimating the numbers of tourists by 8%. If we exclude people who only do some one-day sightseeing, that figure goes up to 14%. As such, of the 272,000 people counted as “tourists” last July, 21,000 to 38,000 of them were not actually tourists at all.

In light of these results, future polls were likely be adjusted to more accurately reflect the number of true and actual tourists in Iceland. But it also prompts us to pin down a lasting definition of the word, which may yet be some time in coming.

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