Blog

Planning, Preparation and Packing

Average temperatures for this time of year may be between -2 and 3 degrees Celsius. Although not quite as warm as England, at first thought this temperature is not too off-putting, but when combined with the northerly winds, it actually is likely to feel a lot colder (World Weather Online). For this reason, my suitcase will be packed with mostly thermals. Thermal socks, thermal vests, thermal leggings…thermal everything! I will also be taking my ski jacket and gloves for extra warmth and definitely a hot water bottle.

img_1275

Talking to friends and family who have previously visited Iceland has also been extremely beneficial. I have collected several items including adapter plugs, a water proof phone case for the blue lagoon and guide books, all of which I will include in my packing.

IMG_1271.JPG

I have also managed to get hold of a bus route map, which appears to be the most economical means of transport around Reykjavik city. Visitors can choose from using a touristic hop-on/hop-off bus route to key  points of interest around the city, for around 3,500kr per day, or use public transport, where bus passes can be bought for 1,500kr per 24hours (Visit Reykjavik). Key places of my event-based interest, which include The Harpa, The Pearl and The Hilton, can all be reached easily using these bus routes.

Finally, my preparation focused on the financial aspects of the trip. Iceland is notoriously known for being an expensive place to visit, which can be traced back to the strengthening of their currency following the 2008 financial crisis (Johnannsson, 2016). With the cost of living 67% higher than in the UK (Numbeo, 2017), I have decided to take 35,000kr, which is actually only around £300!

Johnannsson, K. (2016). ‘Is Iceland becoming too expensive for its own good?’. Iceland News. 8th September. Available at: http://www.icenews.is/2016/09/08/iceland-is-becoming-too-expensive-for-its-own-good/#axzz4ZnhEq9Fd. Accessed 26th February 2017.

Numbeo. (2017). ‘Iceland Cost of Living’. Available at: https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/country_result.jsp?country=Iceland. Accessed 26th February 2017.

Visit Reykjavik. ‘Reykjavik city card’. Available at: http://www.visitreykjavik.is/city/reykjavik-city-card. Accessed 19th February 2017.

World Weather Online. ‘Reykjavik Forecast’. Available at: https://www.worldweatheronline.com/reykjavik-weather/gullbringusysla/is.aspx. Accessed 19th February 2017.

Advertisements

The Main Event

Despite all the man-made events discussed in my last post, arguably the most appealing and anticipated event of all, is an appearance from the Northern Lights. Iceland provides one of the most likely platforms to view the Aurora Borealis and offers a lengthy period between September and April, when sightings are frequent (Northern Lights Iceland).

Even thought the lights are one of the biggest tourism magnets that Iceland relies upon, appearances are unpredictable and can never be guaranteed (Northern Lights Iceland). With this factor in mind, I can’t help but question whether the disappointment of not seeing the lights, would leave a significant gap between expectations of an Iceland trip and reality, and could possibly negatively impact the overall satisfaction of the visit.

To minimize disappointment, there are several websites available which offer an aurora forecast. Some even offer an alert service that will keep you updated and inform you when an appearance is likely. Many rely on the Icelandic Met Office forecast that can be seen below. These maps look at different levels of cloud coverage and then gives you a rating between 0-9 of sighting likelihood.

aurora-forecast
Aurora Forecast (Icelandic Met Office)

Other sites use a kp index as a forecasting system. This is known as a planetary index of geomagnetic activity. The kp map shows you which kp number is needed for a sighting to be likely and a meter simply relays what number is currently recorded. I personally find this a simpler display of information, however many may prefer the reputability of a Met Office prediction.

kpkp-watch

Coach tours to find the lights cost on average between £45-£50 and last roughly for 3 hours. However, if your budget can be stretched any further, you could be experiencing the lights in style. Companies are now offering more niche experiences which include viewing the lights by boat, from geothermal baths or even tucking into a nice lobster under the starlit sky. These experiences can cost anywhere between £80 and £300, but arguably offer a more luxurious alternative to the coach trip.

boat
Northern Lights by Boat (Nordic Visitor)

For most, myself included, a coach will be suffice as long as it offers a good chance of viewing the aurora. Whilst the frills of the other trips may sound appealing, nothing will steal the lime light away from the main event.

Aurora Service. ‘Everything you need to know about the kp numbers system and viewing auroras at low altitudes’. Available at: http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-school/all-about-the-kp-index/. Accessed 19th February 2017.

Icelandic Met Office. ‘Aurora Forecast’. Available at: http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/#type=composite. Accessed 19th February 2017.

Nordic Visitor. ‘Northern Lights by Boat’. Available at: http://daytours.nordicvisitor.com/iceland/northern-lights-tours/northern-lights-by-boat/873/. Accessed 19th February 2017.

Northern Lights Iceland. ‘The Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Iceland’. Available at: http://www.northernlightsiceland.com/the-best-time-to-see-the-northern-lights-in-iceland-2/. Accessed 19th February 2017.

Reykavik Excursions. ‘Day Tours’ Available at: https://www.re.is/day-tours/. Accessed 19th February 2017.

Horses on Ice?

After confirming my trip to Iceland, naturally my first point of investigation into this country was it’s landscape of fairly unique events.

The Icelandic Beer Festival is an annual celebration commemorating the date in which the Icelandic people were allowed to drink beer once again, following the prohibition (Iceland Magazine, 2016). In England, we would probably brand this as a ‘pub crawl’, but nevertheless this event is arguably a great representation of the relaxed and comm-unified  ethos Iceland appears to present.

beer-festival
The Iceland Beer Festival (Promote Iceland)

The Winter Lights Festival is another popular event, which takes place annually on the first week of February and aims to celebrate the country’s winter season and the upcoming increase in daylight hours  (Winter Lights Festival, 2016).

winter-lights-festival-2012-marcos-zotes-rafmognud-nattura-photo-ragnar-th-sigurdsson-3
Winter Lights Festival 2015 (Grapevine)

But arguably, the most peculiar event I came across was the annual Horses on Ice, which is held in March. Whilst this may sound humorous to some, equestrian-based tourism actually plays a significant role to tourism motivation in Iceland, with horses used as a key icon in shaping visitor expectations (Bruch, 2012).

This actually came as a shock to me, as I personally had never associated horses with Iceland. However, the discovery of this fact led me to question what actually were my expectations of Iceland, especially with relation to events.

Gnoth (1997) explains that the process of deciding to visit a destination, begins with personal needs or values that are activated and applied to a holiday destination, generating motivation to travel there and thus leading to formed expectations. These expectations will impact on the perceived performance of the services, products and experiences the tourist acquires and ultimately affects the overall satisfaction of the trip (Gnoth, 1997).

For myself, motivation to travel was provided to me by my University, but despite knowing little about the country, the educational value associated with the trip was the key driver, but the expectations I began to generate were ones of unique and almost magical experiences, in a landscape so different than ones own. Specifically to events, my expectations were focused around events that embrace what I associate with Iceland’s destination image; natural wonders and cuisine.

So, does Iceland have events that match my expectations? The Food and Fun Festival is due to take place between the 1st and 4th of March and provides an optimal opportunity to experience the finest cuisines of Iceland (Food and Fun, 2017). Many restaurants across Reykjavik take part in the competition, several of which are walking distance from our hotel.

restaurant
Participating Kopar Restaurant on Reykjavik’s harbour (foodandfun)

However, despite this cuisine-embracing event, I was shocked to discover the lack of Icelandic events that embrace the natural wonders of their landscape, which is something I would like to investigate further during my visit.

Furthermore, from my reading of Iceland’s event landscape, I can’t help but question whether the variety of their extremely unique and in some respects slightly random collection of events, is a representation of the niche and quirky tourism market in which they are occupying, or an indication of an under-developed and fairly naive event industry. Whilst many of their events sound appealing,  I am struggling to locate an event that matches the expectations I hold or in itself would be enough to draw me to the country on it’s own.

At this point of my research, it may also be worth considering the marketing activities of Icelandic event companies. Poor online marketing attempts may actually be the reason why Iceland appears not to have many recognisable events and so I must approach my visit with an open mind and adopt an investigatory mode, when seeking out any hidden event opportunities.

Bruch, M. (2012). Horse-Based Tourism in Iceland. Hamburg, Anchor Academic Publishing.

Food and Fun Festival. Available at: http://www.foodandfun.is/. Accessed 17th February 2017.

Gnoth, J. (1997). ‘Tourism Motivation and Expectation Formation’. Annals of Tourism Research. 24(2). pp. 283-304. 

Horses On Ice. Available at: http://www.horsesonice.nl/. Accessed 17th February 2017.

Iceland Magazine. (2016). ‘Lets drink beer: the annual Icelandic Beer Festival’. Available at: http://icelandmag.visir.is/article/lets-drink-beer-annual-icelandic-beer-festival. Accessed 17th February 2017.

Winter Lights Festival. (2016). Available at: http://winterlightsfestival.is/about. Accessed 17th February 2017.

The Journey Starts Now

If you had asked me 3 years ago where I would like to travel in the coming years, Iceland probably would not have been near the top of my list. This was of course until my social media news feeds began filling up with breathtaking images and tales of extraordinary experiences, in this once fairly overlooked corner of the globe.

Data suggests that I am not the only one to have had this change of heart, as visitor numbers to Iceland have increased by roughly 25% per year since 2010, reaching 1.77m in 2016 (Turisti, 2017). With American, British and German tourists being most attracted, flights from these countries have increased rapidly year on year, with now 67 weekly departures to Reykjavik from Heathrow alone (Turisti, 2017). A shocking statistic also revealed that in 2016, the number of American tourists outnumbered Iceland’s total population! (Crockett, 2016).

iceland-visitor-numbers
Iceland’s visitor numbers surge year on year

So, why has Iceland become so ironically ‘hot’? It is claimed that Iceland’s claim to tourism fame began with a lady called Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, a former head of state, who put Iceland on the map by simply attending more international conferences and befriending world leaders. Since her term in office, ‘ecotourism’ has boomed and travellers have started to take advantage of the country’s prime geographical location, unique climate and breathtaking landscape.                                                        (Stone, 2015)

Related image
The Queen and Prince Charles meeting Iceland’s former head of state

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for a trip to Iceland is shallowly ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ with the rest of the worlds travellers, as opposed to a lifetime dream, developed long before every man and his dog had been to Reykjavik. However, this does excitingly present myself with a new research opportunity and a chance to learn more about this mysterious country before my travels.

Crockett, Z. (2016). ‘American tourists in Iceland will outnumber Iceland’s population this year’. Available at: http://www.vox.com/new-money/2016/10/18/13261804/iceland-tourism-on-the-rise. Accessed 14th February 2017.

Stone, D. (2015). ‘Why is Iceland (still) so hot right now?’. Available at: http://onward.nationalgeographic.com/2015/01/20/why-iceland-is-still-so-hot-right-now/. Accessed 14th February 2017.

Turisti. (2017). ‘Numbers of tourists in Iceland smashes all records’. Available at: http://turisti.is/en/travels-in-iceland/2898-tourists-riceland. Accessed 14th February 2017.