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Until we meet again Iceland

So, this journey has been nothing short of eye-opening. Experiencing Iceland as a visitor gave myself a foundation for evaluating the country as a destination, not only for tourism, but also for events.

A post-trip reflection on the country in terms of its visitors, its industries, its environment and its communities has assisted myself with making the assumption that Iceland is a pretty impressive destination, with huge potential for the future. For areas such as sustainability where they are arguably way ahead of the rest, they are lacking in others, such as their under-developed events industry. But one can only hope that the financial investment and positive flow of income in which they are receiving, will be invested sensibly to develop the country’s offerings even further.

I will definitely plan to revisit Iceland again in the future and will be keen to observe the progress that they have made. But for now, thank you Iceland for allowing an insight into your culture, your nature and your people. A truly unforgettable experience.

Please watch my video of my experience: https://youtu.be/3wJXqg82ea8

A Sustainable Destination?

Iceland’s environment has a definite essence of purity. The water tastes fresh and the air feels pure. This may just be psychological, but the country’s natural qualities are definitely what makes it unique.

Whilst on my travels, just taking in the beauty of their countryside got me thinking about the long term prospects for this country if tourism continues to rise as it does. The importance of Icelandic communities planning for the sustainable growth of their tourism has been recognised by academics and is considered vital, given the fragile nature of their environment(Olafstdottir and Runnstrom, 2009), but are they doing enough?

“Nature is the main asset for tourism in Iceland as over 80% of foreign visitors mention nature as the reason for visiting the country. At the same time, Icelandic nature is highly vulnerable to an increasing number of tourists, especially areas such as moss rich landscapes, geothermal areas and many areas in the highlands.”

(Icelandic Environment Association, 2017)

On the surface, they probably are. 90% of Iceland’s homes are heated with geothermal energy and they are world leaders in development of green technology (Iceland.is, 2017). It is even claimed that they get a lot of their tourism demand because of their ‘eco-friendly’ status (mynatour, 2017).

However, concerns have been raised by the Icelandic Environment Association as to the degradation of popular tourist areas such as parts of the Golden Circle, Goðafoss waterfall and Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which we visited on our trip. Although I didn’t personally notice any specific environmental damages caused by tourists in these destinations, the sheer quantity of visitors around these fragile sites did make you question their fate. The association are calling for more research to be conducted into the tourism’s effects on the environment and even suggest closing visitor sites whilst damaged nature recovers.

Furthermore, from my observations, I personally feel that their transport industry is a concern. The roads in the centre of Reykjavik are jam-packed with tourist coaches and hire cars and even the tour guide admitted that nearly everyone in Iceland owned a car as it was a necessity to get around the country. What did shock me was the lack of electric or hybrid vehicles. However, this is something that the country are claiming to tackle, as they set out to embrace renewable energy for vehicles and sustainable methods of transport (PR Newswire, 2017).

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All this said, protecting their environment appears to be an important aspect of their development, with their ‘Green Growth Strategy’ developed in 2011 (Promote Iceland, 2011), so here’s to hoping Iceland can maintain its naturally beauty and still allow their tourism market to flourish at the same time.

Icelandic Environment Association. (2017). ‘Tourism’. Available at: http://landvernd.is/en/Main-topics/Tourism. Accessed 29th March 2017.

Iceland.is. (2017). ‘Clean Tech’. Available at: http://www.iceland.is/trade-invest/clean-tech. Accessed 29th March 2017.

Mynatour. (2011). ‘Iceland: a truly sustainable destination’. Available at: http://mynatour.org/destination/iceland-truly-sustainable-destination. Accessed 29th March 2017.

Olafstdottir, R. and Runnstrom, M. C. (2009). ‘A GIS Approach to Evaluating Ecological Sensitivity for Tourism Development in Fragile Environments. A Case Study from SE Iceland’. Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism. 9(1). pp. 22-38. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15022250902761504. Accessed 29th March 2017.

PR Newswire. (2017). ‘Iceland – Leading the World Towards a 100% Sustainable Energy Society’. Available at: http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/news-releases/iceland—leading-the-world-towards-a-100-sustainable-energy-society-153732705.html. Accessed 29th March 2017.

 

Whats on, or Whats not on?

Before I visited Iceland, I was fairly sceptical of their event’s industry, as can probably be gathered from my previous posts. Post-trip, I unfortunately can’t say that my opinions have changed drastically.

During my visit, my group actively tried to uncover any hidden gems of events that were not visible on the world wide web, but in real life, we still struggled to locate many exhilarating event offerings. This came as a surpirse to me, as they actually have fantastic infrastructutre to cope with large scale, impressive events. On day 3 we visited the Harpa Conference Hall, which was a truley breath-taking, state of the art event venue. Yet dissappointingly, we could only locate a few gimicky theatre productions.

events
A whats on guide from The Harpa Concert Hall

We did however discover that the main type of events that seem to take place in Iceland are festivals, spread out over a matter of days and in various locations across the country. These include Reykjavik Folk Festival, Food and Fun Festival, Stickfish Film Festival and Reykjavik Fashion Festival. These are tourism management stratergies to try and encourage visiors at times of year when demand is low (Promote Iceland, 2017). However, I am sceptical of their success and I am struggling to locate any published figures that prove my opinions to be wrong.

“The sparse Icelandic population has always enjoyed a gathering of good people. All-year round, you will find creative festivals dedicated to music, film and fashion. During summer, town festivals attract large groups of people around the country, dominating the event calendar. With abundant daylight hours during summer, and the long after hours of winter, nothing beats a good festival in Iceland.”

     (Visit Iceland, 2017)

Although I am underwhelmed by Iceland’s event offerings, I completely understand why they may not focus their attention on events. They simply have more natural events that they can exploit that draws in enough tourism on their own. Why would they bother?!

Visit Iceland. (2017). ‘Festivals in Iceland’. Available at: http://www.visiticeland.com/things-to-do/culture/festivals/. Accessed 28th March 2017.

Warm hearts, Cold feet

From the many countries in which I have visited in my lifetime, never have I met a nation of more welcoming and inspiring people who embrace their culture in such a delightful way. Icelanders are truley unique and their way of life is in some respects idyllic. They are so proud to be Icelandic and why wouldn’t you be. It goes as no surprise that 40% of their tourists visit to experience the culture and history (Promote Iceland, 2013).

Everyone I met seemed to know so much about their heritage and be able to recite numerous stories from the famous Icelandic Sagas. This tradion lives on in modern Iceland with the most published authors per capita than in any other country in the world (Iceland.is, 2017). Actually, their culture encourages them to continually develop new skills throughout their lifetime in a non-judgmental society, so an author may also be the local doctor, artist and musician!

They go out of their way to make tourists feel at home and even reccomend the best places to go and encourage you to participate in tradional Icelandic activities, such as socialising in a heated pool in the evenings!

Their attitude towards tourists is amazingly welcoming, despite how much they have invaded their once virtually untouched country. But maybe this is counteracted by the appreciation of the financial income that tourists are bringing to their economy. As discussed in previous posts, tourism has played a huge part in rebuilding a once collapsed and unstable economy, providing more jobs and more wealth. Our tour guide explained to us that local communities are thriving with the tourism boom, with more hotels, restaurants and shops opening to meet the tourism demands. It is arguably likely that this is appreciated and respected by locals.

The attitudes of the local communities deffinitely helped to shape the success of my visit and from my view is one of Iceland’s most appealing qualities.

Iceland.is. (2017). ‘People and Society’. Available at: http://www.iceland.is/the-big-picture/people-society. Accessed 28th March 2017.

Promote Iceland. (2013). ‘Final Long Term Strategy for Icelandic Tourism Industry’. Available at: http://www.islandsstofa.is/files/final-long-term-strategy-for-icelandic-tourism-industry-270213kh.pdf. Accessed 29th March 2017.

Far more than I expected

Upon my return from Iceland, I deffinitely had a case of the holiday blues. The main word I can associate with the visit was magical. From start to finish, the trip was truley amazing and a life changing experience, far exceeding the expectations I held before I travelled.

Now that I am home and not as swept up in the magic, I wanted to explore more deeply where these emotions were stemming from. What made Iceland so magical?

Firstly, I beleive the weather made a significant difference on the appearence of the country, as well as the comfort of the travellers. Shortly before our visit, Iceland had experienced the heaviest snowfall they had had in decades (Metro, 2017). Luckily, the snow storms had settled by the time we arrived and flying over the beuatiful snowy, but sunny landscape gave us our first glimpse of what was to come. The snow deffinitely made the landscape feel more unique and the sun allowed us to see clearly the amazing views from the coach throughout the entire trip.

snow

Secondly, the appearence of the Northern Lights played a significant factor in the experience of the trip. Everybody hopes to see the Norther Lights when visiting Iceland, but some many stories are heard of dissappointment, resulting in it being fairly difficult to get excited about seeing the during a short visit. We were extremely lucky in that not only did we see them on the first night on a tour, we saw them again on the second night, simply whilst strolling around the centre of Reykavik. This night was truly amazing and quite possibly one of the best nights of my life. That moment we looked up and saw the sky covered in dancing lights, of the rare purple shades, I felt overwhelmed with excitement, amazement and glee. I couldn’t beleive our luck!

Rare purle lights seen from Reykavik Centre

From this point on, their appeared to be a hype amongst the group, everyone was talking about the lights; sharing pictures, sharing stories. Everyone appeared to be in a better mood and even more excited about what was to come.

Reflecting on this has encouraged me to quesion whether I would have been as positive about the trip if we hadn’t of been so lucky to see the lights and have the weather we had. An article by Bigne, Sanchez and Sanchez (2001) concludes that the more satisfied a tourist is with their experience, the higher their liklihood of reccomendation. I have to question this. As delighted as I was with my experience, the pesimist in me is aware that we were extremely lucky as to the conditions we had during the trip and I am doubtful that I would be as satisfied if we had visited a week later, so a reccomendation would be headed with this caution.

I also must question whether if I had higher expectations of Iceland, my opinions would have been different. I went with very low and confused expectations of the country. I believed it was likely to be cloudy, little snow and seeing the lights wasn’t a given. The country truley amazed me, but could this have been simply becuase I wasn’t expecting to be as impressed. This theory can be demonstrated in standard service quality models such as SERVQUAL (Parasuraman et al., 1988) which uses the gap between expectations and perceptions to measure service quality. This can arguably be related to this scenario and applied in just the same way.

Measuring_service_quality_using_SERVQUAL_model_(Kumar_et_al,_2009)
SERVQUAL Model (Bigne et al., 2001)

This was evident from conversations with other tourists whilst on our travels. Towards the end of the trip, I spoke to a couple who had missed both appearences of the Aurora and they appeared underwhelemed with Iceland’s offerings at that point. They also found the snow to be a hindrence on their ability to walk in the countryside and this also dampened their mood. This just goes to show how the experience really can be affected by the expectations one forms before travelling.

green lights

Bigne, J., Sanchez, I. and Sanchez, J. (2001). ‘Tourism image, evaluation variables and after purchase behaviour: inter-relationship’. Tourism Management. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261517701000358. Accessed 28th March 2017.

Metro. (2017). ‘Snow in Iceland makes us realise how bad we cope with weather’. Available at: http://metro.co.uk/2017/02/28/snow-in-iceland-makes-us-realise-how-bad-we-are-at-coping-with-the-weather-6478467/. Accessed 28th February 2017.

Parasuraman, A., Ziethaml, V. and Berry, L.L. ‘SERVQUAL: A Multiple- Item Scale for Measuring Consumer Perceptions of Service Quality’. Journal of Retailing.  62(1). pp 12-40. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/225083802_SERVQUAL_A_multiple-_Item_Scale_for_measuring_consumer_perceptions_of_service_quality. Accessed 28th March 2017.

Destination Management at its best

Now that I have experienced Iceland first hand, I am going to reflect on Reykavik and Iceland as a destination. But first, its arguably important to understand the background behind destination management theory.

So, what is destination management? Destination management is the collaboration of many organisations working together to acheive a common tourism image goal, using coherent strategies, whilst still maining inderpendence (UNWTO, 2011).

This model demonstrates the role of destination managers in developing partnerships and implementing a coherent destination management plan to achieve the following objectives;

  • Welcome, involve and satisfy Visitors;
  • Achieve a profitable and prosperous Industry;
  • Engage and benefit host Communities;
  • Protect and enhance the local Environment and culture.                               (UNWTO, 2011)

vice-model.png

Throughout this blog I will evaluate each of these areas individually, using my trip and some corresponding research, as a means of concluding my opinions of the overall success of destination management in Iceland.

Before I do this, I firstly would like to reflect on the destination management structure that Iceland currently appears to present.

A big player that seems to exist in Iceland’s DM scene is Promote Iceland, a public-private partnership developed mainly to improve the promotion of Icelandic culture to foreign visitors. It uses co-ordinated promotion and marketing activities including websites such as; Iceland.is, Visiticeland.com and Inspiredbyiceland.com, social media sites, foreign PR activities, media visits and travel exhibitions, to improve the tourism reputation and image of Iceland.

Despite the fact that there does not appear to be an official DM plan released by the government, most of the tourism fuelled organisations that appear on the web all seem to have similar visions in terms of their country’s tourism offerings;

Natural wonders seem to appear top of the list (volcanoes, waterfalls, geothermal pools), as well as the reassurance that a trip to Iceland is less of a trip and more of an experience. Focus is also drawn frequently to the nature of their people, indicating a relaxed, yet insiringly creative ethos amongst locals, which can be reflected in the available activities. Overall, they appear to be playing on a unique selling point, which is that they offer a unique and unusual holiday destination within Europe.

“Iceland is not a destination. It is an adventure. Travel to Iceland to experience the stunning Icelandic nature, the beauty of the rugged landscape and the creativity of the Icelandic people. Come to Iceland to enjoy your vacation, or find the perfect setting for your conference or your incentive trip. Let Iceland be your inspiration.”

(Iceland.is, 2017)

After my experiences of Iceland, I could not agree more with their promotional promises and I feel that they are being completely honest with their statements. Furthermore, it is apparent that their stratergy is working well, as Iceland is becoming ever more popular and a desired destination.

Iceland.is. (2017). ‘Travel in Iceland’. Available at: http://www.iceland.is/travel-leisure. Accessed 28th March 2017.

Promote Iceland. (2017). ‘Tourism’. Available at: http://www.islandsstofa.is/en/tourism. Accessed 28th March 2017.

UNWTO (World Tourism Organisation). ‘A Practical Guide to Tourism Destination Management’. Available at: http://destination.unwto.org/content/guide-destination-management. Accessed 28th March 2017.

Iceland’s Emerging MICE Industry

Despite the arguably lack of tourism-orientated events, Iceland’s MICE event industry may tell a different story. Several factors are assisting Reykjavik in becoming a popular location to hold such type of event;

  • Location – situated on flight-path between USA and Europe
  • Interesting selection of venues – including the Harpa Conference Centre
  • Excellent cuisine
  • Accommodation –  for large numbers of delegates, and for a range of budgets
  • Eco-friendly ethos and practices
  • Access to surrounding landscape

Smart Magazine in fact ranked Reykjavik in top 10 best business destinations in 2016.

(Meeting Reykjavik, 2016a)

With this sector occupying 7% of Iceland’s tourism market (Meeting Reykjavik, 2016b), during my trip I will be keen to explore their MICE offerings in more detail. With this in mind, on my allocated day of free-time, I intend to take a trip up to The Harpa Conference Centre, to take a further look at the venue offerings of this country. I aim to ultimately argue a conclusion for or against Reykjavik as a suitable destination for MICE events.

The centre can be accessed easily from our hotel, using number 1, 3, 6, 11 or 12 bus routes and is open daily from 8am-midnight (Harpa, 2017).

Harpa. (2017). ‘Conference and Concert Halls’. Available at: https://en.harpa.is/harpa/conference-and-concert-halls/. Accessed 20th February 2017.

Meeting Reykjavik. (2016a). ‘Host your next conference in Iceland’. Available at: http://www.meetinreykjavik.is/ourservices/conferencesmeetings. Accessed 20th February 2017.

Meeting Reykjavik. (2016b). ‘Iceland enjoys sucessful growth strategy in tourism’. Available at: http://www.meetinreykjavik.is/ourservices/news/readnews/icelandenjoyssuccessfulgrowthstrategyintourism. Accessed 20th February 2017.