Fewest tourists since 1961

23.06.2020 - 10:25
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924 foreign tourists were registered entering Iceland this April. This compares to between 120,000 and 150,000 tourists arriving by plane in April in recent years. Tourist numbers this April were therefore down by some 99.5 percent.

According to the Icelandic Tourist Board, around six percent of the year’s tourists usually visit the country in April. One has to search as far back as 1961 to find a quieter April. It is worth noting, however, that figures before 2002 are extrapolated as six percent of total annual numbers of foreign tourists, as monthly statistics were not recorded before then. 

The coronavirus pandemic and associated restrictions has brought the global tourism industry to a near-total stop. Iceland’s tourism sector has been affected by the pandemic for all of 2020, with numbers of Chinese tourists severely down right from the start. Nevertheless, the drop-off has been steep: 133,000 foreign tourists visited this February, 64,000 came in the first half March, less than 16,000 in the second half of March, and just 924 people in all of April. The number rose slightly to 1,035 tourists throughout May. 

It is unlikely many of the tourists in April and May were pure pleasure seekers, given the necessity to quarantine for 14 days. Non-resident, non-business foreign citizens could, for example, have been visiting friends or family living in Iceland. 

A total of 13,500 tourists visited Iceland in 1961 and the industry has changed beyond recognition in the nearly 60 years that have followed. Some things have not changed, though: Gullfoss and Geysir remain the biggest tourist magnets. 

In the 1980s, it was common to force Geysir to erupt by pouring soap in. The practice is now banned, but the damage was already done. The practice is believed to be part of the reason Geysir almost never erupts naturally any more. Happily, the nearby Strokkur geyser still erupts every few minutes, whether tourists are there to see it or not. 

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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