Skift Take

The dual-purpose Skift annual retreat — bonding with our globally dispersed team and an immersive deep dive into a globally relevant destination — is on this week, and comes a full circle almost a decade later.

This week the Skift team is in Iceland for our annual retreat. In 2023, 11 years into our existence, this is coming a full circle in so many ways for this company, which has now become amongst the most influential forces in global travel industry.

The last time the Skift team was in Iceland was also the first year we started doing our annual retreats: in 2014. Back then we were less than two years into our journey, 10 of us that could barely afford it, stayed in hostels, did it all on the cheap and set the template for us for these annual retreats that have become a seminal part of our culture of living the brand we espouse. Iceland back then was at the convergence of so many travel megatrends we were covering on Skift, from growing clout of Chinese travelers, to how social media was changing how we experienced destinations, to the rise of what was then called the “sharing economy,” from the rise of deeper experiential travel to the effect of climate change on tourism and vice versa.

Now as a team of 75 of us spread around the globe, we are gathering in Iceland this week; to immerse ourselves in this tiny wind-swept volcanic island, into the world of travel in a post-pandemic, post-overtourism world, to spend time with Skift colleagues and get to know each other beyond the tiny squares in Zoom screens. We’ll discuss what we are working on at Skift in the next few months and the year ahead, take in all the fresh air and purest fresh water we would ever taste, and of course at the end of all of our activities, wash out our tired bones in the thermal pools!

In many ways this trip is a huge breathing out for our company, which went through near-death in Covid times. And now in 2023, where the travel continues to be in great shape despite some economic headwinds, Skift is thriving as a fast-growing and solidly profitable global company, where every optionality as a business lies ahead of us.

Iceland is also a place that we have covered closely as a tourism success story from the beginning of Skift, so much so that when we did a big deep dive into the boom town island in 2016, we also inadvertently coined the term “overtourism” to describe the challenges of managing the crush of tourists descending there. And thus was born a trail of stories and analysis around the global boom in travel, the ensuing backlash from locals, the collision of climate change and overtourism, and a spotlight of travel’s not-so-salubrious part in this mix.

Now in 2023, Iceland’s visitation numbers of 2.3 million tourists are expected to be almost back to 2019 numbers (2.6 million) though still less than the peak of 2017 at 3.1 million visitors. The destination has a lot more infrastructure to deal with the increased numbers, the accommodation options have increased though they are still fully booked during peak months, the season now runs almost year-round despite the weather, and there is a better spread of tourists around the country. 

We will see firsthand the recovery of tourism in Iceland, the changed destination management practices, and the island’s precious environmental balance in the face of climate change and how that continues to collide with the travel sector, and Iceland’s serious push into sustainable tourism practices.

Whatever we find, rest assured not only will we publish it in on Skift and our sister publications Skift Meetings and Airline Weekly, we will also be sharing our own adventures and learnings through Skift social channels (LinkedInTwitter) and our own personal channels. The best way to follow it is to follow the hashtag #outskiftin on whichever social channel you tune into.

We want to sincerely thank Intrepid Travel, in my estimate possibly the most responsible and conscious global travel company there is, which is underwriting our trip through its Destination Management Company (DMC), and arranging our stay and all the activities we will do there as a group. We also want to thanks Visit Iceland for hosting us and helping us in all possible ways, including with the very-frustrating process of visas for our global team. 

Meanwhile, if you want to contact us through email this week, this is the OOO message you will get from me:

Hey There,

Thanks for your email. As someone who usually finds themselves at the heart of the travel industry buzz, delivering you the latest scoops, all of us at Skift have temporarily left our keyboards for an actual expedition. Yes, you read that right, the full Skift team is in Iceland for our annual retreat, from May 14-20!

Some of us are trying to interview a glacier (it’s giving us the cold shoulder), and some of us are attempting to decipher the latest geyser gush (seems like there’s some hot news there).

Why? Because we believe in immersive journalism here at Skift, even if that means chasing stories to the ends of the earth (or in this case, the middle of the Arctic Circle). In the meantime, keep your travel bug at bay by visiting http://Skift.ai , our brand new AI-powered chatbot for any queries you have about the business of travel. 

Check out our adventures at my twitter feed:  https://twitter.com/rafat  and hashtag: #outskiftin

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Tags: experiential travel, iceland, intrepid travel, visit iceland

Photo credit: The Skift team near one of the caves in the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland during a company retreat in 2014. Source: Skift Skift

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