Iceland says it is ready to accommodate growing travel interest it has been tracking on social media and on search engines the last few weeks. It's counting on its wide-open spaces to help visitors feel at ease. The world has its eyes on this reopening.
Iceland‘s Prime Minister KatrÍn Jakobsdóttir announced this week that the country would begin allowing tourists to enter as soon as June 15. Free Covid-19 tests will be provided upon entry.
Skift was curious about the practicalities of this and how visitors will be made to feel safe and welcomed. We reached to the tourism board with some questions. Here is an edited version of our conversation with Sigríður Dögg Guðmundsdóttir, head of Visit Iceland.
Skift: Iceland is I believe one of the first nations to come up with an organized plan to reopen tourism to the world since the pandemic. How did the government decide it was ready to do that?
Guðmundsdóttir: Iceland enacted a policy of high testing volumes and contact tracing to minimize the spread of the virus, accompanied by extensive self-quarantine measures. It was one of the very few countries that started testing in January before a single case was found, and a science-led proactive response has allowed the country to contain the spread through strong processes, high testing capacity, a dedicated track-and-trace app and specialist team. As a result of this response, in May so far only four new cases of coronavirus have been identified in the country.
The government has therefore been able to begin easing social distancing measures for Icelanders and as of May 4, many restrictions have been lessened, and is now also in a position to enact a new border process that will allow tourists to return.
Skift: How involved was the tourism board in creating those plans with the government, and how will you help carry them out?
Guðmundsdóttir: The Icelandic government has based all Covid response on what health authorities advise and the same applies for these plans for lifting travel restrictions.
Skift: Will there be any cap on how many visitors can come? And will any countries be excluded?
Guðmundsdóttir: There are no plans at this stage for a cap on visitors’ numbers. All international arrivals will be subject to the same requirements and are likely to be given a choice between a two-week quarantine and a test on arrival. Those who opt for testing will likely be required to install a tracing app. The app has been developed following the strictest privacy standards, with location data stored locally on the user’s device unless released for tracing purposes in case of an infection.
Skift: Do you have indication that there is considerable demand from people who are keen to visit Iceland right now?
Guðmundsdóttir: We have seen growing interest towards Iceland on social media and in travel search engines in the past four weeks. There might be a combination of factors driving that trend but it is likely that the success of Iceland dealing with the Covid-19 epidemic and the news of Iceland opening its borders in June are key reasons behind this rising interest. Another key reason could be how the destination meets the needs of travelers in a “Post-Covid-19” world. Iceland has established itself as a well-known destination in recent years and maintained a very high NPS score with travelers. Being an island of 103,000 square kilometers (the same size as Kentucky) but only 360,000 people, it is very easy to escape crowds, rejuvenate and enjoy nature.
Skift: Will your marketing efforts be focused on educating visitors on these requirements before they arrive?
Guðmundsdóttir: We are concerned for the safety of our visitors and making sure we can meet their expectations as a destination in this post-Covid-19 world. This will be reflected in our marketing efforts along with our ongoing message about responsible travel.
Skift: Beyond the changes to the arrival experience (testing or quarantine), how will the trip experience be changed? Will there be a reorganization of, for example, Airbnbs, attractions, hot springs, hotels etc.
Guðmundsdóttir: Iceland’s nature is our biggest attraction, and luckily, there is plenty of it to go around. We expect that visitors will be able to move quite freely and without extensive restrictions when traveling responsibly around the country. Obviously, we still have certain restrictions in place to ensure safety where you may expect larger crowds and in certain service areas. How fast these restrictions will be lifted may depend on how effectively spread of the virus can be contained, both here in Iceland, as well as in our main markets moving forward.
Skift: How are you gearing up for the medical safety of tourists. In other words, what happens if a visitor gets sick?
Guðmundsdóttir: All visitors to Iceland will be either tested or quarantined upon arrival to prevent transmission of Covid-19. Those testing positive will need to self-isolate and will receive remote care, as is the standard procedure with Icelanders. Throughout the pandemic, infected individuals have been closely monitored through remote care, and when necessary, have received early medical intervention. This has been key in limiting the number of more serious infections, and consequently the number of hospitalizations.
Skift: Do you anticipate there will be any changes to pricing?
Guðmundsdóttir: We expect prices to develop in accordance with demand as they would under normal conditions but it is difficult to gauge how fast travel will rise as the world moves beyond extensive close-downs and restrictions.
UPDATED: This post was updated to include Sigríður Dögg Guðmundsdóttir’s full name and title.
Photo credit: Iceland is gearing up to open its borders to visitors on June 15 after months of being in lockdown mode . Tamara Polajnar / Flickr