Iceland used to be the hottest tourism destination. What happened?


If you asked a group of people in the last five years where they’d been itching to travel, Iceland would definitely come up. But the latest tourism figures indicate interest in visiting the country may be starting to lose some steam.

In 2018, 2.3 million people visited Iceland, 5.5% more than the previous year, according to the Icelandic Tourist Board, but that increase is far lower than what the Nordic island is used to seeing.

“In recent years, tourism in Iceland grew rapidly, with an average year-on-year growth in tourist arrivals of over 25% since 2013, peaking in 2016 with 38% growth,” Inga Hlín Pálsdóttir, director at Visit Iceland, told USA TODAY.” And for U.S. travelers, Iceland’s capital remains among the 50 most popular international destinations, Jennifer Dohm, Head of PR for the Americas at, told USA TODAY.

So why is Iceland no longer the hottest cold-weather destination? The truth is, nobody’s totally sure. But the lure of other destinations, the country’s expensive accommodations and the demise of WOW Air could all be partly to blame.

Other destinations are attracting North American tourists

Iceland is still buzzy, but other areas are starting to gain more traction among travelers.

Dohm said that global searches for Greenland on ticked up 52% in 2018 while Iceland searches only went up 17%.

“We’ve been seeing more ‘Instagrammable’ and remote destinations grow in popularity over the last year, including other North Atlantic destinations like Greenland,” Dohm said.

Other data from indicates that North American travelers are flocking to countries like Ireland, Turkey and Japan. Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto’s visitor numbers have grown by almost 9%, this past year with a record high of nearly 32 million visits.

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