Iceland Mag

10 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


An exaggerated tourism boom? Numbers of visitors to Iceland probably overestimated

By Staff

  • Growing tourism There is no doubt tourism has boomed in the past 7 years, the question is exactly how fast the growth has been. Photo/Gunnar V. Andrésson

There is mounting evidence that official statistics are overestimating the growth in the number of foreign travellers visiting Iceland. Flybus operators at Keflavík international airport say the actual number of visitors, which point to a 46.5% increase in the first five months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016, vastly overstate the increase.

Fly bus passengers growing slower than official figures
Operators of fly buses at Keflavík told the local newspaper Morgunblaðið and tourism news site Túristi that in previous years the growth in the official figures has been reflected in a corresponding increase in the number of people who take the fly bus. This has not been the case this year.

Read more: Growth of tourism continues: 56% increase this year, shortage of accommodations looms

Túristi points out that it is highly unlikely that the disparity can be explained by a dramatic increase in the number of people taking cabs or rental cars from Keflavík.

Problems with official figures
Official estimates of the number of foreign visitors come from the Icelandic Tourism Board which compiles figures on all foreign nationals who go through passport control at Keflavík National Airport. 

Critics have pointed out that these figures include foreign nationals who live in Iceland as well as foreign travellers who change flights at Keflavík. Passengers who buy tickets from European destinations to Keflavík with one airline, but then change airlines in Keflavík, are counted in the figures of foreign visitors, even if they never actually leave the airport.

Number of tourists overstated by as much as 10%?
Some suspect that as more airlines fly to Keflavík more people are using the airport as a hub, piecing together their own routes between destinations in Europe and North America. When passengers book their flight across the Atlantic with one airline they are not counted as foreign visitors to Iceland, but if passengers change airlines, and have to re-check the baggage with a new airline, they must pass through passport control, and are then counted as foreign visitors.

In order to arrive at more reliable figures on the actual number of foreign visitors in Iceland the Icelandic Tourism Board intends to conduct a study to determine how many passengers use Keflavík as a hub. One study suggest that more than 10% of the foreign visitors counted in the official figures are only using Keflavík as a hub, and never leave the terminal.


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