“Tourism sector must be able to plan ahead”
The Icelandic government last Friday announced stimulus measures worth 70 billion krónur, including support for companies mothballed through the pandemic; as well as initiatives for households, jobseekers, pensioners, and more.
“What’s important is that these initiatives have finally come out, as there has been a very long wait for them. We have an overview of the plans that the authorities are making, given that vaccines are within sight. Companies can go on to make future plans and hopefully turn attention to their resurrection,” Bjarnheiður (pictured above) says.
Bjarnheiður says the most important single aspect is the extension of top-up benefits into the spring, meaning that staff working a minimum of 50 percent can continue to have their wages topped up by the State. The authorities paid up to 75 percent of workers’ wages in the first wave of the pandemic. “Of course, we wanted to see it go [back] to 75/25. That would have made it possible to hire staff faster into companies,” she says.
Border testing barrier
The government plans to announce its new strategy for how people should enter Iceland on or before the 15th January. The current system of border testing was extended by two months and will expire at the start of February, at which time the new strategy will come into force. Bjarnheiður hopes the new strategy will make it easier for foreign tourists to visit Iceland. If that is the case, then early February is as late as comfortably possible for the tourism industry to prepare itself to contribute significantly to the economy next summer.
Every week counts
Ásdís Kristjánsdóttir, assistant director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, says many companies will be able to use the measures announced by the government last week. “What the authorities are offering with these initiatives is more certainty. But we feel the lines still need to be clearly drawn on contagion prevention procedures,” she says.
“The time now is the time that the Icelandic tourism sector sells for next summer. That’s why it will make a big difference for an announcement to come on what sort of arrangements will be at the border as soon as possible. Each week is important. This is important not only to the Icelandic tourism industry, but also to the whole fightback that lies ahead.”
Residents’ money important too
She says the Association is sympathetic to the fact that making solid new plans takes time, but emphasises that time is short.
Contagion prevention rules within Iceland also need to be announced in good time—especially with the Christmas holiday approaching. “It is difficult for companies to make plans not knowing how assembly limits will be implemented. It is important for the authorities to draw a clear picture in that regard.”
Some 50,000 people living in Iceland still have their 5,000 króna travel gifts to use and they only have until the end of December to do so. Bars, restaurants, and tourist attractions are naturally eager to be able to accept these travel gifts, and other increased leisure spending over the festive period.