Iceland Has Seen a Massive Decline in Tourism Due to the Demise of WOW Air
From alternative college spring break trips to a feature on an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Iceland had become a prime vacation spot for just about every type of traveler over the last several years—partly because of how cheap it was to fly there.
It looks like that era has come to an end, and Condé Nast Traveler reports that it’s largely due to the March collapse of WOW air, one of Iceland’s two airlines. Known for its bright purple planes and “Wow”-worthy prices, the airline offered roundtrip, nonstop flights from major U.S. and European cities sometimes for as little as $100. The deals drew millions of frugal adventurers to seek out Iceland’s attractions, causing a peak of 38 percent year-over-year tourist growth in 2016, as Visit Iceland told USA Today. Aviation journalist Seth Kaplan explained to Condé Nast Traveler that the small island nation simply couldn’t handle servicing millions of people across two airlines in its capital city Reykjavik, and WOW air’s business model wasn’t sustainable.
This year’s statistics illustrate just how quickly the tourism numbers are plummeting. According to data from Diio by Cirium, the number of scheduled airplane seats for the rest of 2019 is down a devastating 27.5 percent from last year. Though WOW air’s demise heavily contributed to the drop, things aren’t running smoothly for Iceland’s other airline, Icelandair, either: It owns nine Boeing 737 MAXs, which haven’t been flown since the model’s official worldwide grounding in March. As a result, Icelandair has had to fire 45 pilots.
And, contrary to what the media surrounding the bargain flight prices might’ve made you think, Iceland is not a cheap country. Hotels, food, and alcohol are all significantly more expensive than throughout Europe, and many tourists aren’t prepared for it. Condé Nast Traveler travel specialist Chris Gordon said it caused chaos across the usually very safe country. “People were breaking into churches to sleep in them,” he said. “People were rampantly using lawns as toilets, and pristine landscapes—Iceland’s greatest attraction—became famously strewn with toilet paper.”
Without WOW air ferrying hoards of ill-equipped vacationers into the country, prices will probably level out. “I would expect you will have more of an equilibrium, where the cheapest flights will be gone but with fewer people in the country, the cost of other things should be dropping,” Kaplan says.
[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]