In a normal October, the Radisson BLU Saga Hotel in Reykjavik would be buzzing with tourists hoping for a glimpse of the Northern Lights, business travelers in town for trade fairs, honeymooners gearing up for a tour of Iceland’s waterfalls and geothermal spas. This year, of course, things are very different.
“It’s surreal,” said Ingibjorg Olafsdottir, the hotel’s general manager. “It’s completely quiet.”
Since March, even with government support, Ms. Olafsdottir’s staff has shrunk from 140 to just 16. The hotel, which has more than 200 rooms, normally has an occupancy rate of above 75 percent, but it fell to 11 percent in September.
“It’s been emotional,” Ms. Olafsdottir said, adding that, even after cutting down to bare-bones operations, the hotel continues to rack up debt. “But the thing is, I think everybody is in the same boat here.”
Tourism is undergoing an unprecedented downturn all over the world, but several factors make Iceland particularly vulnerable to the industry’s crash: geographic isolation, a small domestic population, strict border measures and an economy that — after an extraordinary, decade-long tourism boom — had come to depend heavily on foreign tourists. A recent surge in coronavirus cases has added to Iceland’s challenges.
But while visitor numbers are low, Iceland is positioning itself for a major tourism rebound after the pandemic. The government is investing more than $12 million in tourism infrastructure, while improving roads and harbors across the country. To keep the tourism industry afloat in the short term, the government is also investing more than $9 million in a program that distributes free travel vouchers to Icelandic citizens and residents. A marketing campaign targeting domestic tourists was rolled out in the late spring; an international version will be unveiled as soon as travel restrictions are lifted.
The government hopes that when people go to book their first post-pandemic flights overseas, Iceland will be at the top of their list.
Source : New York Times