[My story about Iceland tourism first appeared on NBC News)
You’re not imagining it if it seems like everyone you know is either planning a trip to Iceland – or just got back.
The Nordic island nation – population 350,000 – has seen tourism numbers explode from under 500,000 in 2010 to 1.7 million in 2016, with more than 2.4 million tourists expected to visit this year.
Iceland’s stunning glaciers, waterfalls, volcanoes, lava fields, geothermal pools and geysers have always been there, of course. But it took global news coverage of the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, cameo TV and film roles for Iceland’s scenery and some quirky tourism campaigns to really grab the world’s attention.
“At first it was crisis communications,” said Inga Hlin Palsdottir, Director of Visit Iceland and Creative Industries at Promote Iceland, “Our tourism industry was having difficult times after the 2008 recession and in 2010 things were just beginning to pick up. Then the volcano starting erupting right before the peak summer tourism season.”
Iceland’s tourism industry and the government banded together to try to save the summer season, eking out a tiny 0.1 increase that year. They continued to work together, with a focusing on raising Iceland’s profile as a year-round destination and getting tourists to venture outside of Reykjavik.
“Before Airbnb was even booming, we had locals invite tourists to their homes. Then we asked tourists to rename Iceland, because the country really doesn’t have that much ice,” said Palsdottir, “Now we have the Iceland Academy,” which is a series of short, offbeat videos on everything from “How to Eat Like an Icelander,” to the essential “How to Avoid Hot Tub Awkwardness.”
Now music fans want to see where Björk, Of Monsters of Men and Sigur Rós came from. TV and film aficionados want to see for themselves the Icelandic scenery that appears in hits such as HBO’s fantasy series ‘Game of Thrones,’ and the movie ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,’
And going somewhere where there’s a great chance of seeing the Northern Lights is on the bucket list of almost every traveler.
Foreign and local tour operators have greatly expanded schedules and itineraries throughout Iceland and the inventory of hotel rooms and vacation rentals have grown.
Courtesy Promote Iceland
Helping to fuel in the influx of visitors from North America is the increase in air service to Iceland, especially by Wow Air and Icelandair, two Reykjavik-based airlines that route their flights through Iceland and offer passengers the option of an Iceland stopover for no additional airfare charge.
“Who doesn’t love a two-for-one deal?” said Pauline Frommer, Editorial Director of Frommer’s guidebooks and Frommers.com, “Most travelers are jazzed by the idea of getting to see an additional destination on their way to Europe – and one that hugely popular right now.”
Icelandair, celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, has been promoting its stopover option since perhaps the early 1950s or mid-60s, said airline spokesman Michael Raucheisen, “We’ve always encouraged passengers to come experience Iceland for a few days, fall in love with it and come back for a full trip. And that model has worked well over the years.”
For passengers who don’t choose to stopover, Icelandair has two planes offering flyers a taste – or a tease – of the Iceland experience.
The carrier’s northern lights-themed plane was introduced in 2015 and earlier this month the airline launched a glacier-themed plane (named for Iceland’s Vatnajokull glacier) that has images of the glacier hand-painted on the exterior and, inside, ice-blue lighting and headrests, cups, napkins, lavatory décor and even airsickness bags with a glacier motif.
With all this talk about a ban on laptops and larger-than-smartphone electronic devices being from some airline cabins, consider for a moment the pre-computer age of the typewriter.
Courtesy SFO Museum
A fresh new exhibit at San Francisco International Airport, organized by the SFO Museum, traces the history of typewriters (remember those?) and typewriter technology, from early writing machines to modern portables.
courtesy SFO Museum
“A marvel of industrial engineering and ingenuity, it revolutionized communication and was an essential tool for countless writers. To comprehend the typewriter’s impact, consider a world where typing did not exist and handwriting was the main form of non-verbal communication. The ease and speed of communication on paper increased dramatically when typewriters became available in the late 1800s. Typewriting was efficient, created clear and legible documents, and easily produced multiple copies using carbon paper,” the exhibition notes tell us.
Here’s one way Alaska Airlines is dealing with the fact that Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is reaching capacity: the carrier is going to begin operating some flights out of a ‘new’ airport in the region: Paine Field – Snohomish County Airport, which is the right next to Boeing’s giant assembly plant in Everett.
While Boeing’s newly -completed aircraft and private jets use Paine Field, it currently has no commercial service.
Over the years, there has been plenty of debate about using Paine Field for this purpose, though, because it is located about 20 miles north of Seattle and about 40 miles north of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Being able to catch a flight from there would allow travelers living north of Seattle to skip what has become terrible traffic that sometimes makes getting to the airport take longer than a regional flight.
Subject to government approvals, Alaska has announced that starting in the fall of 2018 it will begin offering up to nine daily flights out of the airport.
“We’re not quite ready to share details of the routes,” says John Kirby, Alaska’s vice president of capacity planning on the airline’s blog, “But I can tell you they won’t be limited to short, regional flights. We’re talking daily, nonstop flights to some of our most popular destinations.”
Construction of a “state of the art terminal” is slated to begin in June and Alaska said it will announce routes, flight schedules and begin selling tickets early next year.
During May, close to 100 HMSHost restaurants in more than 50 airports across North America are offering their version of the restaurant week concept diners are familiar with in many cities.
Restaurants on this list are offering their version of set tasting menus:
Flatbreads such as the Heirloom Tomato or the Crispy Eggplant version with creamy brie, caramelized onions, baby spinach, and a honey mustard vinaigrette.
Sandwiches such as the Grilled Chicken Gyro or the Cilantro Lime Shrimp Wrap in a flour tortilla with jalapeño crema, roasted corn, and black bean slaw.
Premium beef burgers such as the Asian Burger with hoisin ketchup, ginger sesame cabbage slaw, chili garlic mayonnaise or the Caprese Burger with vine ripe tomato, mozzarella, balsamic onions, and a basil pesto aioli.
Entrées such as the Pan Roasted Salmon or the Grilled Shrimp Skewers with pineapple, scallions, toasted sesame, and a hoisin glaze.
The dishes come with a variety of accompaniments, including a Peach Arugula Salad with roasted red peppers, toasted walnut, and strawberry balsamic vinaigrette or pickled vegetables, seasoned fries, grilled asparagus and a daily creation of a chef’s potato.