Tourism in Iceland

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Active tourism: riding Icelandic horses in Skaftafell

Tourism in Iceland has grown considerably in economic significance in the past 15 years. As of 2016, the tourism industry is estimated to contribute about 10 percent to the Icelandic GDP;[1] the number of foreign visitors exceeded 2,000,000 for the first time in 2017; tourism is responsible for a share of nearly 30 percent of the country's export revenue.[2]


Evolution of the annual number of foreign visitors to Iceland compared to the growth of the resident population.

Services provided to foreign tourists were for a long time an insignificant part of the Icelandic economy, rarely contributing more than 2 percent to GDP, even long after the advent of international air travel.[3] Until the early 1980s, the number of foreign visitors to Iceland increased slowly and erratically, never exceeding 80,000 in a single year,[4] and for many years after that only barely kept pace with the increase in the number of Icelanders travelling to and from the country. This situation lasted until the turn of the century, when the annual number of visitors exceeded the total resident population for the first time, at around 300,000.

A few years later the Icelandic tourism industry started to experience a boom which to this day shows no signs of abating, as witnessed by the fact that the number of foreign visitors grew on average by 6 percent per year between 2003 and 2010, and by some 20 percent per year on average between 2010 and 2014.[5][6] In 2015, this rapid increase has continued, with the number of foreign visitors already exceeding 1 million in the period January to October. According to the Icelandic Tourist Board, the total number of overnight stays by foreign visitors to Iceland grew from 595,000 in 2000 to 2.1 million in 2010, before rising to 4.4 million in 2014.[7]

The number of people working in tourism-related industries in Iceland was 21,600 in 2014, representing nearly 12 percent of the total workforce, and tourism's direct contribution to GDP is now close to 5 percent.[8]

Tourist demographics[edit]

Iceland is well known for its untouched nature and unique atmosphere.[9] Iceland receives the highest number of tourists during summer (June–August). In 2014, around 42% of visitors arrived in Iceland during its summer months, proportionally a slight decrease compared to the previous two years, the percentage of winter visitors having increased by over 4% in the same period.[10] As of year 2014, Iceland's largest tourism markets comprises tourists from Central/South Europe, followed by those from other regions: North America, the UK, then the Nordic countries. In terms of visitors from individual countries, the top five for 2014 were the UK, USA, Germany, France and Norway. Canada had the largest percentage increase in visitor numbers in the 2013-2014 period, with an increase of over 60% year on year.[10]

Popular tourist destinations[edit]

According to a survey carried out by the Icelandic Tourist Board in 2014, the following 10 destinations are the ones most frequently visited in Iceland, out of 39 specifically mentioned in the survey (the percentages indicate the proportion of all foreign tourists visiting the destination in question and relate to the summer season, some of the destinations being less easily accessible in winter).[11]

Rank Destination Percentage
1 Capital Region 97.0%
2 Geysir/Gullfoss 59.4%
3 Þingvellir 50.4%
4 Vík 47.4%
5 Skógar 43.6%
6 Jökulsárlón (glacier lagoon) 42.3%
7 Skaftafell 40.3%
8 Akureyri 36.2%
9 Mývatn 34.0%
10 Blue Lagoon 31.5%

Arrivals by country[edit]

Most visitors arriving in Iceland through the main airport are from the following countries of nationality:[12]

Rank Country 2015 2016 2017 2018
1  United States 242,805 415,287 576,403 694,814
2  United Kingdom 241,024 316,395 322,543 297,963
3  Germany 103,384 132,789 155,813 139,155
4  Canada 46,654 83,144 103,026 99,715
5  France 65,822 85,221 100,374 97,224
6  Poland 27,079 39,613 66,299 91,463
7  China 47,643 66,781 86,003 89,495
8  Spain 27,166 39,183 57,971 65,589
9  Denmark 49,225 49,951 53,240 51,019
10  Sweden 43,096 54,515 56,229 49,316
Total foreign 1,261,938 1,767,726 2,195,271 2,315,925

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tourism to bring in 10% of Iceland's GDP in 2016". Retrieved 2017-08-03.
  2. ^ "Foreign visitors to Iceland 1949-2014". p. 3. Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  3. ^ "International tourist receipts and expenditures and their share in exports and GDP 1969-2008". Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  4. ^ "Foreign passengers 1971-1999". Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  5. ^ "Passengers through Keflavik airport by citizenship and month 2002-2014". Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  6. ^ "Foreign visitors to Iceland 1949-2014". Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  7. ^ "Tourism in Iceland in Figures" (PDF). p. 12. Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  8. ^ "Financial accounts". p. 3. Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  9. ^ "krpano - thorsmork". Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  10. ^ a b "Tourism in Iceland in Figures - Icelandic Tourist Board". Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  11. ^ "Tourism in Iceland in Figures" (PDF). p. 19. Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  12. ^ "Passengers through Keflavik airport by citizenship and month 2002-2018-PX-Web". Retrieved 13 August 2018.

External links[edit]

regional sites of the Icelandic Tourist Board