Sturla Böðvarsson var aðalræðumaður á hátíðarfundi Þýsk- íslenska verslunarráðsin í Hamborg nú fyrir helgi. Í ræðu ráðherra kom meðal annars fram hve mikilvægir þýskir ferðamenn eru íslenskri ferðaþjónustu. Til dæmis eru gistinætur Þjóðverja hér á landi fleiri en á meðal annarra ferðamanna. Einnig kom fram að mikil tækifæri væru fólgin í því að fá þýska ferðamenn hingað til lands utan háannar.

Ræða ráðherra er eftirfarandi:

Distinguished Chairman, dear participants

It gives me particular pleasure as Minister of Tourism to be able to take part in this meeting of the German-Icelandic Trade Council here in Hamburg today, especially since tourism is one of the two main topics on the agenda of the meeting.

I would like to say a few words with regard to general developments in the Icelandic tourist industry, the importance of the German market in those developments and finally the role played by the authorities in this process.

During the past 50 years, Icelandic tourism has experienced dramatic growth. It has in fact been transformed from a small industry that provided summer employment for relatively few individuals and was often regarded as a special interest of eccentrics, into Iceland second largest industry with regard to foreign currency earnings, and, in addition, tourism is now the area of economic activity which is looked upon as one of the mainstays in the development of future employment opportunities in Iceland during this century.

As may be expected, the beginning originated with developments in communications between Iceland and other countries Two trans-Atlantic air companies which maintained communications between Iceland and the rest of the world during the 1950s created the necessary environment for promoting Iceland as a tourist destination on foreign markets. It is too often forgotten, in fact, that communications between Iceland and other countries constitute the very foundation of our tourist industry.

It makes absolutely no difference what we do about marketing and developing services – all this is wasted unless we have reliable links with the outside world.

A community of 300,000 people, far away from the road and rail systems of the major markets, may not seem, at first glance, a promising place for tourist development.

Not only are we a long way from our markets. Our domestic market is also small. The idea, which became a reality, of operating international air routes between Europe and the USA via Iceland, was and remains the prerequisite for building up year-round tourism for foreign markets.

What kind of airline services would operate between Iceland and other countries, if they were only serving the needs of a community of 300,000 people for communications with the rest of the world?

What community in the world with such a small population has direct flights to 23 destinations in Europe and America? Daily flights all year make it possible for us to compete for passengers who want to be able to choose any length of journey, any time.

The future of Icelandic tourism, and particularly the prospects for more even distribution of tourists throughout the year, is contingent to a great degree on Icelandair’s success in developing its network.

It is not only tourism, of course, that has reaped the benefit. The Icelandair network has also been a crucial factor for Icelandic business and exports in general.

Further development of the Icelandair network, and their marketing efforts, along with other bodies, are not only important to tourism. This is in fact the basis of our ability to continue to play a greater part in international trade, and our competitiveness.

The origin of our entire communications system abroad may be traced to a small country in this vicinity. This was during a period when all flight operations were subject to strict rules and conditions.

Iceland was able to negotiate an agreement with the government of Luxembourg and this is how the adventure began; flights between Europe and the United States with Iceland as a stopover.

Next month it will be exactly 50 years since the first Icelandic plane landed in Luxembourg and thus this unique foundation for Icelandic tourism was established. It was this event that made it possible to promote Icelandic tourism in Germany on a whole year basis, by means of scheduled flights from the neighbouring country of Luxembourg.

Much has changed since those days and the system of routes on which our whole year tourism is based has now been completely transformed, although the basic concept is still there; that is, to use Iceland as a link between Europe and the United States.

I would now like to move on from the topic of our communications system; it is, however well worth dwelling on this matter, especially since the 50th anniversary is marked by a new chapter in its development, the forging of a link with the U.S. Pacific Coast by means of a scheduled flight service to San Francisco.

Parallel to this system was the gradual development in the following decades of direct flight services in summer from destinations in Germany. Furthermore, the shipping company Smyril Line began sailing to Iceland from Denmark 30 years ago with marketing operations mostly being directed towards Germany, since it was mostly Germans that took advantage of this service. Now we have direct flights between Germany and Iceland all year round and the Smyril Line’s vessel, Norræna, also sails to Iceland on a whole year basis.

How has all this, then, affected the growth of tourism in Iceland? If we look at the number of visitors from abroad, we note that last year 362,000 tourists visited this country whose population is only 300,000.

The past few years have seen an impressive increase. When we look back over the past years, from1995-2004 we see an increase of 70%. According to information published by the WTO, tourism increased worldwide by 24% during this same period. This has to be regarded as a remarkable achievement, reached by the joint effort of companies involved in tourism and the Icelandic government.

But the number of visitors from abroad does not tell the whole story, Income also matters.

Last year, Iceland’s foreign exchange earnings from the tourist industry were approximately ISK 40 billion (500 million euro), so that , the income from each visitor is about EUR 1,400. Thus, tourism as an export industry is contributing approximately 13% of Iceland’s total foreign exchange earnings.

This ratio was about 6% in 1985; thus tourism’s contribution to our total foreign exchange earnings has more than doubled while heavy industry and other new factors have also come to play an increasing part. Furthermore, the importance of tourism to the national economy is clearly indicated when we look at foreign exchange earnings as a proportion of GDP. In Iceland this figure is about 3% whereas it is about 2% in France, only 1% in Germany and just over 2% in Italy.
The German market has played a highly significant role in the growth of our tourism. Currently, about 40,000 German tourists visit Iceland, or about 11% of our total tourist arrivals. It is quite clear, however, as already mentioned, that sheer numbers are not necessarily the most important criterion for assessing the extent of tourism. When we examine the number of hotel nights, we note that Germany contributes nearly 20% of all hotel nights in Iceland. No other nation brings us the same number of hotel nights; for comparison, we note that German tourists spend more hotel nights in Iceland than the entire contribution from the Scandinavian countries.

I have already mentioned that our foreign exchange earnings last year were about EUR 500 million. With regard to number of hotel nights it would seem a reasonable estimate that Icelandic tourism has earned about EUR 100 million in foreign exchange from the German market alone.

Those figures demonstrate the immense importance of this market for Icelandic tourism and indeed the entire Icelandic economy. During the past 10-15 years the share of new markets has increased to a certain extent, but in spite of this, the proportion contributed by the German market remains unchanged from 1985, or just below 20%.

Although all of these figures are positive, this market, however, STILL differs from our other markets in one respect. At the same time as we have made considerable progress in all our product development and marketing operations with regard to the main objective of reducing seasonal fluctuations, the German market has turned out to be the most resistant to change in this respect.

I must urge service providers in Iceland and sales agents in Germany to work at this task – and I call this a task, not a problem – even harder and try to reach a larger target group for visits to Iceland outside the high season.

90% of Germans that arrive in Iceland say that the Icelandic natural environment is the main reason for their visits. This is a higher ratio than shown in general tourist surveys which yield a figure of 76%. The average age of Germans visitors is 45 years and they spend more time outside the area of the capital than visitors from other countries. This, again, indicates how important the German market is to us, since it is one of the chief aims of all development work to strengthen tourism in regions outside the capital.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I would now like to comment on the approach the Icelandic authorities have adopted towards the tourist industry. Although it is government policy that tourism, like any other industry should prosper as a result of its own initiative based on the principles of private enterprise, the government has to be involved in those developments in a variety of ways. Government creates the environment of industry by means of law and regulations.

Government also defines tasks that the public sector undertakes in relation to tourism and decides upon financial contributions to certain projects. Such contributions are determined by government policy at any given time.

In addition to tourism, the Ministry of Communications is concerned with all communications on land, sea and in the air, as well as all matters regarding telecommunications. All those categories are of course closely related to tourism. We who work in the ministry have obviously noted that concurrently with significant growth in the extent and importance of tourism, we pay increasing attention to its requirements in all our administrative activities.

With regard to direct government financial contribution to tourism, we have formulated a policy to the effect that it is the role of government to participate in certain areas, e.g. the general dissemination of facts regarding Iceland and the provision of information, education and research. In addition, contributions to environmental issues are important to tourism with regard to the fact that the natural environment is our most important tourist attraction.

During the past few years, I have taken the initiative to greatly increase financial contributions to the above areas of government policy. We have begun co-operating with the tourist industry in its marketing operations and it is the opinion of those who are most knowledgeable in those matters that those contributions have been of the highest importance to the industry in the wake of 11 September 2001. Iceland was quicker to react than most other countries and regained former operational levels within a relatively short period of time.

As an example of the way the Icelandic authorities regard it as their role to assist in the general dissemination of information about Iceland, a promotion and marketing office is operated in Germany under the auspices of the Iceland Tourist Board. This office has been government financed for the past 20 years, since its opening here in Hamburg in 1985.

In order to define even more clearly the role and assistance of government in the development of tourism, I have, during the past four years, had reports compiled with regard to certain areas of operation within the industry. Among those is the development of culture-related tourism, health-related tourism, development opportunities within particular regions, the operating environment of the tourist industry etc.

When those reports had been compiled, I arranged for a special tourism operations plan to be prepared for the period 2006-2015 with regard to the way the authorities would like to be involved in and influence the development of the tourist industry during the next 10 years.

I have presented this plan to the Icelandic Parliament where it is now being debated. I hope this matter will be concluded in the spring and this would be the first time that a tourism operations plan is passed by the Icelandic Parliament.

After the plan has been passed, it is anticipated that a work schedule will be published relating to nine areas of operation with regard to government involvement in diverse areas of co-operation with the tourist industry and its projects for the next 10 years.

Five years ago I concluded an agreement of co-operation between government and companies, both in tourism and other areas of export with regard to working together in North America under the banner „Iceland Naturally“. The objective of this co-operative venture is to create a positive image of Icelandic goods and services on the CONSUMER MARKET. This involves promoting Iceland and all things Icelandic by means of direct advertising and various other activities, thus trying to encourage a positive overall image which could subsequently benefit tourist agencies and producers on the North American market.

The government has contributed 70% of the cost of the project with companies making 30% of total contributions. One million USD per year has been invested in the project in North America. Regular measurements have indicated that this work is yielding a return and that general public awareness of Iceland and its products has increased.

Encouraged by the success in North America, I decided to study the possibility of a similar project on the continent of Europe. As a result of this study, I decided to launch a project of a similar kind here this year. I have assigned a chairman and provided the project with a home base, similar to the North American arrangement, at the Frankfurt office of the Icelandic Tourist Board.

The project has been set on course and the first survey relating to our image on the continent is being prepared to enable us to base the beginning of our work on its conclusions as has already been done in North America.
I have high hopes of this new co-operative venture between government and companies in the promotion of Iceland here on the European continent.

Dear participants. As I have described, Icelandic tourism is undergoing a spell of significant growth and is of ever-increasing importance in our economy and industry as a whole. The German market has been and still remains one of our vital supports in this growth, as it makes up one fifth of all the activities of the tourist market abroad.
During the past years, the government has been increasingly involved in the evolution of the tourist industry and now, for the first time, as I mentioned before, a tourism operations plan has been compiled and submitted to the Icelandic Parliament for confirmation, regarding the role played by government during the next 10 years.

New ways are constantly being sought to strengthen every aspect of our work, both as regards the reception aspect in Iceland which has to go hand in hand with a growing foreign market, and also on the markets abroad, as is for example seen in the decision to launch the „Iceland Naturally“ project here in addition to all other marketing and promotional activities in this part of the world.

I am grateful for this opportunity to present to you various aspects of Icelandic tourism and I would like to express my best wishes to the German-Icelandic Trade Council in its important work of strengthening the commercial ties between our two countries.