The Tourism board pointed out that they have been pleased witht the response to their poster campaigns on the Tube and in the Metro, and that they plan to continue with it for next year. While these advertisements may have had some part to play in the sudden upsurge in visitors, the real motivator for people to visit has been the arrival, finally, of low cost, internet booked airfares. Europe, and more recently The United States, have seen most of the old airline cartels broken, competition has been fierce and prices have tumbled – and the people who have benefitted has been the customer, and what a refreshing change that makes.
Some people are first class
Last year Iceland Express launched their low cost airline, offering unheard of prices on routes to Copenhagen and London Stansted. Where Icelandair had been selling return economy flights to London for 400 pounds, the new operator was offering the same run for 150 pounds, sometimes far less. Icelandair had no option but to follow suit, and soon they were offering web tickets that competed with Iceland Express. Icelandair, while saying publically that they welcomed the competition, set about priceing Iceland Express out of business. And they might well have done so, but travellers both here and in Europe got wind of the fact that flying in and out of here was now sensibly priced, and they started booking.
This spring, Iceland Express doubled the number of flights and the doommongers warned that the company was overstretching itself and could not fund such rapid growth. So far they have been proved wrong. In the meantime, one thing is for certain: low cost airtravel is here to stay.
One group of travellers who so far haven´t embraced the concept of low cost travel is the group funded by the taxpayer. Yes, when it comes to travel, MPs, Ministers, Prime Ministers and Presidents, they like it Saga Class. These leaders of Europe´s most classless society like the wide seat, the free chaampagne and a dividing curtain between them and the people who are paying for their ticket. So next time you bump into your local representative ask her/him why he needs to spend 110,000 krónur to get from A to B when you can do it for a fraction of that cost.
Fewer smelters, more tourists
Low cost travel and the tourists it brings will do more for this country than aluminium smelters and hydro eclectric schemes and those in power should be doing more to support it. Which brings us back to the poster campaigns. Tourism generates well over twice as much income for the country as farming and the gap between them will only grow. The Ministry of Agriculture spends over 11 billion krónur, while Tourism is part of the Ministry of Communications, and with a comparatively miniscule budget to spend. Perhaps it is time to create a New Ministry, that of Tourism, properly funded with the money to invest in capital projects away from Reykajvik which will make Iceland even more attractive to visitors and help the regeneration of the rural areas.
The country has so much to offer, but investment and training are needed to make sure that the toursits of the future don´t leave feeling that they have been ripped off or disillusioned. Peak times at the Blue Lagoon are already crowded, and can be uncomfortable. ‘The Golden Circle’ also gets crowded. To continue to appeal and give value to tourists more investment will be needed on projects farther away from the Keflavik airport. This will mean the sort of committment that creating a Tourism Ministry would bring.
Overseas there is real ‘buzz’ about this country, and it is hard to know precisely why. Vigdís and Björk? The Blue Lagoon and Geysir? The epicentre of cool Reykavík? With the best will in the world poster campaigns on subways can only promote what is already there. Supporting low cost travel and well priced interesting places to stay around the country must be the aims of the future and what better way to show seriousness of intent than a Miniter of Tourism with a budget that gives him the money to do the job. The country is going to need all the foreign revenue it can get, and Tourism is the only real activity that can produce it.