Firms Tout Iceland as a Meeting Destination


Reed Travel Features

REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- Many agents have discovered that Iceland, from its rolling, mossy hillsides to its soaring glaciers, has the right ingredients for leisure travel. But the dramatic landscape also makes it a compelling backdrop for corporate meetings and incentive trips, operators here said.

For example, Gunnar Rafn Birgisson, director of the incoming department of Samvinn-Travel, said his company orchestrates unique, memorable events -- from one corporate client's chief executive officer's wafting in via parachute to greet company employees gathered atop a glacier to elegant, candlelight receptions inside an ice cave.

Tour operators said that Iceland can serve as an apt symbol of the corporate goals that clients strive for. "There are only 1 million people in the world alive today who have been here. Do you want to be one of those? Or do you want to go where everyone else has been?" said Birgisson, whose company claims to be Iceland's largest agency, with more than $34 million in annual sales.

Iceland can be a difficult sell for agents, however, because many Americans do not know where it is and imagine it to be a "cold, dark, faraway place." However, for agents who can dispel some of these myths for clients while underscoring the destination's unique qualities, especially the benefits of holding meetings and incentives here, the sale becomes much easier, he said. "In Iceland, you have the feeling of being at the edge of the world, but you are well taken care of," Birgisson said.

Operators recited a litany of facts that run counter to common perceptions of Iceland. For example, the average temperature here is about the same as in New York. And it is a shorter flight to Iceland from New York (five hours, 30 minutes) than from New York to Los Angeles.

Reykjavik, with a population of 100,000, is easy to navigate, safe, and offers fine hotels, restaurants, entertainment and a range of meeting venues. The city received considerable attention and gained status as a prime conference destination in 1986, when the Reagan-Gorbachev summit was held at Hofdi House.

Last April, the Joe Boxer clothing line unveiled its fall collection there. Urval-Utsyn, one of Iceland's largest tour operators, organized the event, which was attended by 150 journalists from the U.S. The weekend affair included a visit to the home of the president of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson; a trip to the Blue Lagoon, a lava field filled with warm, mineral-rich water; a glacier tour; brunch at the Pearl, Reykjavik's revolving restaurant, and horseback riding. It culminated in a fashion show featuring Icelandic models and entertainers at a Reykjavik Airport hangar.

Ulfar Antonsson, manager of Urval-Utsyn, said the event proved Iceland has the talent and professionalism to undertake such a task.

In Reykjavik, hotels can accommodate large conferences, and smaller cities and villages can accommodate smaller meetings, tour operators said. The average price for first-class hotel accommodations in Reykjavik in the low season, from Sept. 15 through Jan. 5, are $89, per room, double, and $70, single, according to Urval-Utsyn. In the high season, the rates are $175 per room, double, and $134 single.

Urval-Utsyn, which serves 15,000 incoming passengers annually, has developed new "team-building" activities for corporate groups. These programs, which are conducted with professional guides, focus on physically and mentally challenging activities designed to foster cooperation and trust among the group members. The activities include mountaineering, skiing, ice and rock climbing and glacier and cave exploration. The company also introduced whale-watching to incentive clients in 1997.

For groups that want to capture a sense of adventure but also want comfort, "superjeep" tours fit the bill. These four-wheel-drive vehicles feature 44-inch spiked tires, which make them able to navigate virtually any surface under any conditions, from glacial ice in winter to the rugged terrain of glacial rivers in summer. Groups of up to 150 can travel in a caravan of such vehicles over Iceland's glaciers and highlands. Each vehicle carries up to seven passengers and is equipped with a satellite navigation system to guide it across the lunar-like terrain while a display plots the vehicles speed, route and the altitude at which it is climbing. image

In a country still being shaped by volcanoes, glaciers, rivers and lava flows, Urval-Utsyn and Samvinn Travel also suggest corporate groups experience it via helicopter rides, river rafting and snowmobiling.

Samvinn Travel designed an itinerary featuring a morning of sea angling and whale- watching and an afternoon of snow-scooter racing on Vatnajokull, Europe's largest glacier. For more action, Samvinn suggests a four-wheel-drive rally into the highlands, over unbridged rivers, through the moonlike lava landscape and onto the glaciers. Lunch is served on ice-carved tables on a glacier.


Agents can get more information on meetings and incentives in Iceland from:

Phone: (011) 354 569-9300
Fax: (011) 354 568-5033

Samvinn Travel
Phone:(011) 354 569-1010
Fax: (011) 354 552-7796
Web: Samvinn

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