REYKJAVIK -- The Icelandic Tourist Board reported a 17.7% increase
in U.S. tourists January through August this year compared with
1999, with arrivals increasing from 31,775 to 37,411.
The count, which was revealed at the Vestnorden Travel Mart here
in September, included those visitors who stayed at least one night
at a hotel or guesthouse.
"This is our ninth consecutive year of tourism growth to Iceland
from North America. There has not been a hiccup," said Einar
Gustavsson, director, the Americas, for the Icelandic Tourist Board
in New York.
Magnus Oddsson, director general of the Icelandic Tourist Board
here, added, "We like to think that it has to do with our
promotional work, and that Icelandair has increased its promotional
work, as well.
"Then, of course, we have a strong U.S. dollar, and we see from
our surveys that Americans like our product."
Oddsson said that the tourist board projects an average annual
increase of 10% from the U.S. market during the next few years.
Accompanying the increased exposure and demand, Gustavsson said
there also has been a dramatic change in the number of tour
operators and wholesalers selling Iceland.
"Five years ago, there were about 25 tour operators. This year,
there are approximately 200 more," he said.
This year's Vestnorden Travel Mart, the travel trade show for
Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, had participation from
about 140 companies as wholesalers or exhibitors and 115 as buyers
or tour operators, according to the Icelandic Tourist Board.
Iceland's overall tourism increase of 18%, Oddsson said, "means
that for the first time tourists exceed Iceland's population,"
which is 279,000.
The tourist board previously forecasted 300,000 tourist arrivals
"Tourism in Iceland is being taken more seriously than ever
before by the government," Oddsson said.
Tourism is Iceland's second-largest foreign currency earner
after fisheries, providing 13% of the country's income and 3.6% of
the gross national product.
Oddsson warned that tourism for the country as a whole could be
hurt if the insufficient hotel capacity in the capital city is not
"We could be facing, in the next two to three years, a shortage
of hotel accommodation in Reykjavik," he said.
"Although tourism is growing fast, investors can get more for
their money elsewhere. This would be bad for tourism throughout
Iceland, as Reykjavik is the distribution center for the whole
The tourist board's projected visitor count of 350,000 in 2005
could conceivably be accommodated without building new hotels,
"But we are now already passing 300,000 this year, so with the
same increase in the next five years as the last five years, we
could not [meet demand] without new hotel investments," he
One factor that might spur hotel investment in Reykjavik in the
near future is the development of a harborside conference center,
which was announced to the travel industry at the start of the
Vestnorden Travel Mart.