During this Covid-19 Pandemic, many internationally recognized experts in public health and infectious diseases recommend that people should avoid crowded places. Therefore, you should visit Iceland because it is not crowded. There are 356,991 people (data from 2019) on an island with 3000 miles (4800 km) of coast. Iceland has 3.5 people per square km (9.1 people per square mile) compared to Europe, which has 115 people per square km (300 people per square mile). To give you an idea of its isolation, Scotland is 500 miles (834 km) away. Iceland is definitely a Crowd Free World.
(Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/13/travel/iceland-tourism-pandemic.html)
BACKGROUND INFORMATION ABOUT ICELAND
More than 1000 years ago, during the Viking era, Norse and Celtic people settled Iceland. Iceland is an independent island nation in the North Atlantic Ocean. Although Iceland is very far north, the Gulf Stream gives it a milder climate than would be expected at its location.
Visitors from the USA, the European Union, and members of the Schengen Agreement enter without visas. The capitol is Reykjavik, the currency is the Icelandic Krona, and the language is Icelandic. Other currencies such as the US dollar, the Euro and the British pound are normally accepted. Most people in Iceland speak other languages, such as English, German, and Danish.
Iceland gained its independence from Denmark in June 1944 and is a democracy with a constitution, an elected government and a parliament. The Icelandic population actively preserves its traditions, customs, and language.
Iceland is often called the “Land of fire and ice”. It has rugged mountain ranges, magnificent large high waterfalls, and glaciers. When the American astronauts prepared for the first moon landing, they trained in Iceland because NASA thought that the Icelandic landscape resembled the moon landscape photos taken by the satellite that had circled the moon. The largest glacier in Europe is at Grimsvotn in Iceland.. Iceland has more than 200 active volcanoes, which erupt sometimes. In the Middle Ages, people called the Hekla Volcano, “the gateway to Hell”. Iceland also has a geothermal area with many hot springs, which have bubbling boiling water and columns of steam. The heat from these hot springs heats homes and agricultural hot houses and is used to make electricity. At Kverkfjoll at the edge of the Vatnajokull Glacier, there are seething hot pools side by side with the ice of the glacier.
The Laufas folklore museum in Eyjafjordur has examples of houses made from turf.
If you love riding horses, you can ride the small and sturdy Icelandic horse. They appear to be delicate but that look is deceiving. These horses can go all day over rugged terrain without problems. Bring your riding gear and enjoy the open countryside on horseback.
WHAT TO BUY, WHAT TO EAT
Icelandic wool is warm. Shops all over the country sell Icelandic wool items, which are hand-knit by local people. These items include sweaters with traditional designs, hats, scarves, socks, and gloves. If you take good care of your woolen purchases, they will still look very good after many years of constant use.
Fishing is a major industry with well-equipped and efficient boats. Restaurants serve these freshly caught fish. The variety of fish eaten is immense. You will not go hungry if you like fish. You will begin to wonder: “How is possible to prepare herring so many different ways?”. Many dieticians say that salmon from Icelandic salmon rivers has a better taste than salmon from salmon farms. If you are an angler, contact the local Icelandic embassy for information about places where you can fish and about rules for fishing.
TOURISM IN ICELAND
The Past: In the 1960s and l970s, the national airline, Loftleider, had inexpensive flights from JFK airport, New York, USA to Luxemburg. The airline also offered very inexpensive layover programs with a stay in an excellent hotel in Reykjavik, tour packages, and some meals. Many university students from the USA accepted the offer, toured Iceland and became life-long ambassadors for Iceland. Years later, these tourists remember how helpful people were, how fantastic the fish tasted, and how they could not resist buying at least one of the famous Icelandic sweaters that they still wear. Their spouses often say, “ask how many”.
The Tourist Boom: In 2008, there was a global financial crisis and the Icelandic Krona plunged in value. Suddenly, Iceland was inexpensive. In April 2010, ash from the eruption of an Icelandic volcano put Iceland on the news around the world. A few weeks after the eruption, the Icelandic government opened an extensive advertising campaign to encourage tourism. The campaign was hugely successful and tourism boomed. The number of visitors in 2018 was 2.3 million compared to 459,000 in 2010. The rise in tourism improved the economy and increased employment opportunities. However, many Icelanders believe that this tremendous increase in tourism, named “overtourism”, was endangering Iceland’s fragile natural landscape.
Covid-19 Pandemic: In summer 2020, coronavirus numbers were low in Iceland and the country welcomed tourists. Arriving travelers had a choice: self-quarantine for 14 days or be tested for the virus. In addition, the Icelandic government started programs to encourage Icelanders to explore Iceland. However, on 19 August 2020, because of the global increase in virus cases, the government strengthened border screening regulations. On 5 October 2020, the government required bars, nightclubs and gyms to close. Unemployment rose.
The Future of Tourism in Iceland: The Director General of the Icelandic Tourist Board announced that the government would invest to improve infrastructure at both public and private tourist places. The investment will be used to build infrastructure at national parks, protected areas, and large public tourist sites and will fund Iceland’s Tourist Site Protection Fund. The projects will improve tourist sites so that the sites can safely receive more tourists. Other projects will preserve nature to ensure that returning tourists do not destroy the fragile environment. Infrastructure investments will improve roads and harbors in Iceland.
The Icelanders hope that future tourists will stay longer and explore less well-known places. People, who are looking for fresh air, nature, and open spaces, should head to Iceland.
Information in this report is from the New York Times International Edition (Weekend, Saturday, Sunday 24, 25 October 2020, page 24), the website of the Government of Iceland, and personal experiences.