Greetings, Fellow Travelers!
BLUF: This four-part AAR covers the journey, the destination, and activities of our trip to Iceland. Iceland is full of amazing wonders: waterfalls, geysers, wildlife, and fresh air. Over the past five years, Iceland has become one of the most popular destinations for tourists. In turn, Iceland’s tourism infrastructure has risen to the challenge to accommodate that influx with new hotels, bars, restaurants, and a fantastic airport. I recommend a visit, but more than most places, seasonal differences in airfare, room rates, activities, and crowds prevail. Definitely do your research.
Today’s AAR takes us to Iceland.
While Iceland has, for many years, been a top destination for whale and Northern Lights watching, getting to the small North Atlantic island nation proved expensive. In 2012, WOW Airlines changed all that. This “ultra low cost carrier” provided incredibly cheap airfares from the U.S. and Europe to Keflavik International Airport (KEF), the main airport for Iceland. Suddenly, both WOW and Icelandair (the national flag carrier) began offering “stop over” service: the ability to connect between North American and Europe with a multi-day stop in Iceland at no additional cost. This strategy was the catalyst to jumpstart Iceland’s tourism boom.
Many argued the WOW and Icelandair rivalry and “price war” grew too fast and saturated the island (pop. 358,000 in 2019) with too many tourists too quickly. In 2010, KEF tracked just over 2 million passengers in and out of the airport. By 2018, that figure was almost 10 million. This in an unprecedented number of non-locals looking for hotel rooms, dinner spots, souvenirs, and tours. Plus, once outside of Reykjavik, the capital and largest city, roads become two-lane and prone to overcrowding due to tour busses and campers heading to geological hotspots.
As previously mentioned, I’ve been in stationed in Germany since July 2013. Iceland has been on and off my travel calendar many times. The first couple of false starts in planning were likely due to too much written about how, frankly, crowded and “hipster” the location was. Reportedly, the initial flood of tourists were eco-tourists bringing with them shaggy beards, craft cocktail recipes, veganism, and traffic. Not entirely fair, I know, but nonetheless, I delayed visiting until 2019.
WOW Airlines ceased operations in March 2019. As many in the tourism industry predicted, WOW was stretched too thin with its ever-expanding network and lack of new capital investment. The airline’s demise is definitely a speed bump to Iceland’s tourism. However, every cloud has a silver lining as WOW’s demise in March 2019 decreased the number of tourist during our April 2019—likely to be felt for at least a year.
In sum, I’m happy a trip to Iceland finally landed on our travel schedule, and I’m excited to share the experience.
Next, Part 2: The “Saga” begins…
Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.
“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”
Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler