It is no secret that Iceland is a popular tourist destination. Instagram influencers, videographers, and bloggers seem to all set their sights on Iceland to build essential foundations for their brands. Iceland offers an otherworldly landscape where artists can truly put their skills to the test. However, it wasn’t always this way. Iceland has experienced exponential and consistent growth in its tourism sector every single year, for many years now. How did it take so long for travelers around the world to realize that Iceland could be an attractive tourist destination? There are multiple reasons why Iceland has grown as a hotspot for tourism, let’s examine some. 

Iceland's growth as a tourist destination has come as a surprise to many

Follow The Music

Music is inherently tied to Icelandic culture. We value artistic and musical expression very highly here. It is no surprise then that despite our small stature, Iceland produces some of the most well known and popular musical acts in the world. Björk and Sigur Rós were arguably the first significant acts coming out of Iceland, and their popularity intrigued audiophiles enough to visit our island.

It should be noted that year after year Iceland keeps producing some of the best musical acts in the world. Of Monsters and Men, Valdimar, and Kaleo are just a few of the native Icelanders who enthrall and captivate audiences around the world. Travelers started coming more and more, but it didn’t create the meteoric rise of Iceland’s popularity. That happened much later, but they did help plant the seeds of curiosity.

Economic Disaster

Traditionally, Iceland (and most Scandinavian countries as well) have been incredibly expensive vacation destinations. The Icelandic Krona for many years, before the 2008 Icelandic financial crisis, would heavily outweigh foreign currencies. Then, in the blink of an eye, that paradigm was flipped on its head. If you were one of the few that had enough foresight to catch the economic balance shift in Iceland, you could have taken an Icelandic vacation for pennies on the dollar.

The 2008 economic crash was disastrous for Iceland

The real watershed moment in Icelandic tourism came when the world witnessed the thunderous eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

Volcanos and Hashtags

Usually, volcanoes are considered bad for business. You can’t tell when they are going to erupt, and when they do it can result in serious catastrophes. When Eyjafjallajökull erupted, it spun airlines and passengers throughout western Europe into chaos and disarray. Iceland was just getting back on its feet economically and was cultivating a growing tourism sector. Then, when the volcano erupted, it received a tsunami of bad press. Luckily, I remember it from an outsider’s perspective (I decided not to travel that year). Flights across western Europe were a mess. Passengers were stranded, flights were delayed due to the massive plumes of smoke and ash that coated the skies, and people were generally pretty angry. But, we spun that negative attention into a positive marketing campaign. The government immediately stepped in and created the Inspired by Iceland marketing campaign, and the rest is basically history.

Inspired by Iceland is one of the most successful tourism marketing campaigns ever. Point blank, period. The viral videos leveraged our stunning landscapes and portrayed a dreamlike, otherworldly land lost in time. The videos highlighted our towering mountains, our frozen milky glacier fields, and onyx black sand beaches. The campaign worked wonders, and travelers stopped associating Iceland with volcanoes billowing with ash and began to associate Iceland with breathtaking landscapes. Since the inception of the marketing campaign, Iceland’s presence on the web and on social media is omnipresent. Our turquoise blue iceberg lagoons, our emerald fields of moss, and the cute puffins that live on our craggy cliffs are a constant on Instagram feeds.

Puffins are one the huge draws of Icelandic tourism

Tourism in Iceland Now

As of today, we have seen continued growth in our tourism sector, and each year more and more people are coming. The economy is booming, jobs are being created, and first-timers to Iceland are planning their return trips. Iceland also owes a considerable debt to those who designed our original roadways. The Ring Road, our most famous route, leads curious travelers on a circular path around the perimeter of the entire country. Not only is it convenient to drive along, but every major tourist attraction is more or less just a stop off the road.

Lastly, our capital of Reykjavik plays a huge part in the great success of these last few years. The city has some wonderful initiatives to help tourists get the most out of their Icelandic getaway. The WOWcitybike program is a clear example of this. Reykjavik has partnered with WOWair to create a bike sharing program to serve as an alternative means of public transportation (something we are sorely lacking here). This program is one of many that Reykjavik has helped to create, and, by doing so, is making our country both more environmentally conscious and tourist friendly. All data points, as of now, are showing that Iceland’s growth is nowhere near finished yet. Pretty impressive for a country of about 330,000 residents, if you ask me.

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