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European destinations such as Barcelona, Dubrovnik, and Venice are suffering under the weight of overtourism as summer travel is underway. But Iceland, a country that had nearly five times more tourists than residents last year and helped start the global conversation on overtourism, insists it’s not stretched too thin – for now.
More than 1.3 billion people crossed international borders last year, and the global traveling population will only increase. Iceland has to be ready rather than resistant to that reality, said Inga Hlin Palsdottir, director of Visit Iceland and Creative Industries, Promote Iceland who spoke at Skift Forum Europe in April.
“We have 95 percent of tourists who say they are satisfied with their trips, said Palsdottir. “Ninety percent say they are going to come back. Ninety percent of Icelanders say they’re positive towards tourism and the industry itself but 70 percent say they’re worried about the impact on nature.”
Most of Iceland’s tourism growth in recent years has been in the outlying regions beyond its capital Reykjavik, and in the offseason months of September to May. Palsdottir and other Icelandic tourism officials decided to change their marketing tactics to promote the offseason after a major volcanic eruption in 2010 put the country on millions of travelers’ radars.
Iceland has about 30,000 visitors a day in the offseason to about 90,000 a day in the summer, said Palsdottir, and the year-round average is about 50,000 a day. The country’s population is less than 340,000.
“Icelanders know that tourism is the number one revenue-generating industry but we’re all struggling with pointing out the economic importance of it,’ said Palsdottir. “They just want the industry to be organized.”
But destinations get their tourism data from multiple sources and sometimes the numbers don’t align with various sources. There’s long been skepticism of how accurate tourism arrivals data are and the recent suspension of international arrivals data in the United States highlighted the issue. Palsdottir said she’s confident that Iceland has accurate tourism data.
Harmonizing the data is one of the difficulties that Europe is dealing with, said Jennifer Iduh head of research and development at European Travel Commission who also spoke at Skift Forum Europe in April.
“We need to look at this at the city level,” said Iduh.
After a rebound in tourism in 2017, Europe is on track for another extraordinary year but with more moderate growth, said Iduh. “This will be helped by the Euro and the United States, China, and Russia,” she said. “The Russian economy, in particular, has really improved and we’re seeing a lot of outbound travel demand from Russia this year.”
Iduh said low-cost airline growth in Europe has also been a driver in getting tourism back up after years of a weak Euro and terrorism.
“Thanks to the liberalization of the airline industry in Europe, there are more destinations that people can reach within the region,” said Iduh. “It’s also been a catalyst for tourism in lesser-known destinations. And thanks to more connectivity in a country we can see how carriers are trying to spread tourists around a country and not trying to focus them on one single place.”
You can watch the entire interview above, or consider reading more coverage of Skift Forum Europe.
At Skift Forum Europe in Berlin, Europe’s travel leaders gathered for a day of inspiration, information, and conversation.