May 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 1 
Commercial Airplanes

Serving up a culture, one flight at a time

777-200LR Worldliner rollout caps the event team's big effort

Serving up a culture, one flight at a timeContrary to some people's belief, Iceland is not covered with ice. Instead, it has a landscape that in many places is covered with lava chunks from eruptions of its 200-plus volcanoes over the centuries.

So years ago, Icelandair decided to purposely play up its remoteness and its natural resources. After all, the country is home to the largest glacier in Europe and is a veritable hot spot of volcanic and geothermal activity. Not only does this natural hot water supply much of the island's population with inexpensive heating, but its geothermal seawater pools have helped make the country a tourist draw.

Because of its country's location in the North Atlantic, the airline's leadership decided decades ago to tout Iceland as a prime—and affordable—stopover destination for travelers flying between the United States and Europe. And while most of the island is uninhabitable, the capital city of Reykjavik is a sophisticated, walkable city known for its nightlife and seafood-based cuisine. These attractions—combined with natural ones such as Iceland's glaciers, geysers, waterfalls and whale-watching sites—have put Iceland on the map with nature-seeking tourists.

"Iceland itself is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world," said incoming Icelandair CEO Jón Karl Ólafsson, who also is president of the organization that serves as a united voice for Icelandic tourism. "Fifteen years ago, the fishing industry was 55 to 60 percent of our (national) income; now it's down to 45 percent. Tourism now is 14 to 15 percent of industry here."

Today, the tourism business is growing about 10 percent annually. That's especially impressive because about 370,000 tourists visit the country each year—more than the country's total population.

Over the years, Icelandair has converted Reykjavik's Keflavik International Airport into the center of its hub-and-spoke network, flying 1.3 million passengers each year. Of these, 40 percent are fliers transferring in Reykjavik; 35 percent are tourists visiting Iceland; and 25 percent are Icelanders going abroad.

Icelanders also benefit from the airline's interests. The carrier plays a major role in cultural, culinary and musical festivals in its homeland, sponsoring annual events such as "Food and Fun Festival," a five-day winter event that brings chefs from around the globe to collaborate with Iceland's top restaurants in preparing dishes made exclusively with Icelandic ingredients such as seafood and lamb.

To promote the island's burgeoning music scene, which landed on the map in the 1990s thanks to eclectic pop singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir, the airline's also been sponsoring "Iceland Airwaves" since 1999. A showcase for new music from Iceland and abroad, it's designed not only to entertain local residents but also to expose the country's music scene to potential visitors around the world.

—Maureen Jenkins

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