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Official Figures Exaggerate Tourist Numbers

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Official Figures Exaggerate Tourist Numbers

Keflavik International Airport

From Keflavík International Airport. Photo: Zoë Robert.

Travel media site Túristi published an article last Friday questioning whether the very way in which tourists are counted has led to an overstatement of their numbers. This was based in part on the fact that passengers who come to Iceland on one airline only to continue directly on to their final destination with another are counted as tourists in Iceland because they need to collect their baggage and check in again for the next flight. The Icelandic Travel Industry Association agreed, and said it had not perceived such a big increase in tourist numbers as one would assume from official figures, RÚV reports.

However Director General of the Icelandic Tourist Board Ólöf Ýrr Atladóttir, had a different perspective. “Consider that about 85 percent of passengers who travel through Keflavík Airport are traveling on one of the two main Icelandic airlines and therefore on one ticket, and that even if they are transferring, they do not need to go out [through customs or immigration]. Various things indicate that this is not a very big factor [in the discrepancy in figures], although it would be very interesting to look into the weighting of such transit passengers and we probably will do so,” said Ólöf Ýrr on the morning program on RÚV’s Rás 1 radio station.

Ólöf Ýrr said there are many clear discrepancies between official figures on the number of tourists to Iceland and the number of overnight stays, and although this does include inherent bias in the counting method, other factors likely play a greater part.

For example, the strengthening of the króna might have caused tourists to choose different accommodation from normal, such as switching from hotels to guest houses or even private accommodation. In addition, the figures could also be influenced by the large number of foreign workers in Iceland, because they are counted as tourists when they are here only for a temporary period. However, this does not explain everything.

“I understand that bookings look good, but from what I’ve heard from the tourism industry, there are some clouds on the horizon. People are spending a lot less. This means they are probably spending less on expensive items like entertainment. People are changing their behavior in restaurants. I would say this is primarily a result of how expensive Iceland has become in comparison with other countries because of the exchange rate,” said Ólöf Ýrr.

“People are searching for cheaper options and exploring every avenue to experience the country without hurting their wallets,” she continued.

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