It should come as no surprise that Iceland’s tourism industry was decidedly pleased with Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s announcement yesterday that travel restrictions to Iceland will be lifted no later than June 15th. However, much rests upon Icelandair, which is still in a difficult financial position and is currently in labour negotations with its flight attendants.
“It’s very important to be able to have a more long-term view of things than we’ve been able to until now,” Bjarnheiður Hallsdóttir, the chair of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF), told RÚV. “I believe that if everything goes well, we should see some tourists here this summer. For those who want to come, this will be a very real possibility.”
As reported, no later than June 15th, tourists visiting Iceland will be able to make a choice: go into immediate 2-week quarantine, get tested for the coronavirus, or present a clean bill of health from the health authorities in their home countries. While the country could open up as soon as May 25th for European guests, visitors from outside of the Schengen Area will most likely be able to visit from June 15th.
Bjarnheiður says that there are many prospective tourists who have not cancelled their plans yet, and with this recent news more bookings could appear. However, she adds that everything rests upon these hopeful visitors being able to get here in the first place, saying, “There is a lot at stake that Icelandair continues operations, and it’s in reality a life-or-death question for tourism in Iceland. Hopefully people realise that the situation isn’t just about Icelandair but tourism in Iceland as a whole, and not just tourism but the economy and our whole society.”
Bjarnheiður is not overstating her case. Icelandair comprises the lion’s share of flights to and from Iceland, but the coronavirus crisis and subsequent travel restrictions in the US, the EU and Iceland alike have forced them to reduce flights and lay off some 95% of their workforce, putting them in financial peril.
Currently, Icelandair’s flight attendants are in labour negotiations with the company. Talks are not going well, as flight attendants believe that the offer they were given by Icelandair last Sunday amounted to a 40% pay cut—something that Icelandair CEO Bogi Nils Bogason denies. These flight attendants have been without a valid contract since the beginning of 2019, but with the impending re-opening of the country, they are in an even better bargaining position than before. Whether Icelandair will meet their demands, or a new deal can be struck, should come to light in the days to come.
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