From Iceland — Tourism Growth In Iceland Slowing, Americans Still Top Tourists

Tourism Growth In Iceland Slowing, Americans Still Top Tourists

Published January 8, 2019

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

2.3 million non-Icelandic passport holders departed from Keflavík International Airport last year, Kjarninn reports. This is 120,600 more than took departing flights from the airport in 2017, marking an increase of 5.5%, according to statistics from the Icelandic Tourist Board.

While this indicates that tourism is still growing in Iceland, it is significantly less growth than Iceland experienced previously—from 2013 to 2017, tourism growth between the years ranged anywhere from about 24% to around 40%.

In terms of market share, Americans still comprise the largest portion of all tourists to Iceland, as they have done for several years running. They were, in fact, one of the few nationalities to come to Iceland in greater numbers last year than in 2017. In all, 694,814 Americans visited Iceland in 2018; more than twice as many as the next most prominent nationality to visit Iceland, the British, and marking a 20.5% increase from 2017.

2017 was certainly a banner year for tourism in Iceland, and may in the long run prove to be the crest of the wave. It was in that year that tourists surpassed the 2 million mark.

By the same token, early in 2018 the signs were already appearing that tourism was beginning to cool down. Not only were the numbers for the first quarter of that year lower than the year previous; some rather breathless articles about tourism killing Iceland began to appear.

The concerns that have arisen regarding tourism and Iceland by almost all accounts have more to do with how local and national authorities respond to tourism than tourists themselves.

For example, in an interview we conducted with geographic information systems specialist Dr. Ben Henning in 2017, he pointed out that a lack of any coherent policy, as well as a lack of coordination between the different actors in the tourism industry, is responsible for most of the tourism-related ills locals face.

While that situation has improved somewhat, 2018’s figures could indicate that tourism in Iceland is at the very least levelling off.

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