Iceland Mag

10 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


Official figures possibly overstate the number of foreign travellers visiting Iceland

By Staff

  • Numbers game Transit passengers who have to claim their baggage and check-in again passing through Keflavík Airport are counted as visiting tourists.

A discrepancy in the official count of tourists arriving in Iceland and figures on nights spent at hotels could mean that the actual number of visiting tourists could be overestimated. According to a report in local news site, transit passengers on connecting flights who never leave Keflavík Airport are being counted as visiting tourists, inflating their numbers.

Spent nights don't increase in line with number of tourists
The number of tourists visiting Iceland increased by 53.7% during the first three months of this year. This was not reflected in nights spent by foreign travellers in Icelandic hotels which increased by 26% in the same quarter. The discrepancy gives reason to believe the official numbers on visiting tourists might be artificially inflated to some degree.

The most probable explanation for the number on nights spent having not increased as much as the number of tourists is that tourists seem to be spending less time in Iceland than before. Demand for alternative forms of accommodation likely skews the figures as well, as tourists staying at guesthouses, hostels and Airbnb are not counted in the nights spent statistics.

Counting transit passengers as visitors
However, the way visiting tourists are counted at Keflavík International Airport could lead to the number of tourists actually entering the country being overstated. 

Visiting tourists are counted at the security check at Keflavík International Airport. By this method, transit passengers travelling between Europe and the United States are counted as visiting tourists if they have to claim their baggage and check-in at Keflavík. Thus, air travellers are counted as visiting tourists, even if they never leave the airport.

Read more: Record increase in the number of foreign travellers in 2016 points to the fact that while the official number of Canadian tourists visiting Iceland tripled in the first quarter, the number of nights spent in Icelandic hotels by Canadians actually decreased by 12%. Officially, the number of French tourists increased by 61% while spent nights by French travellers only increased by 14%.

Exact information on the number of transit passengers and their effect on the overall tally of visiting tourists is not available, according to the report.

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