In the past few years, Iceland has become an increasingly popular tourist destination for LGBTQ travelers. Several hotels and guesthouses are owned or operated by members of the LGBTQ community, and one company, Pink Iceland , specializes in organizing gay and lesbian friendly tours and events. For the past three years, Pink Iceland has organized an annual winter pride festival, Rainbow Reykjavík , which this year starts on January 30th and runs until February 2nd. The festival has primarily been marketed towards tourists travelling to Iceland specifically to attend it, but this year the organizers are making a concentrated effort to reach the local LGBTQ community. GayIceland spoke with Hannes Páll, one of the festival organizers, who says Rainbow Reykjavík is for everyone.”In our first year, we were terrible about involving Icelanders in the celebration,” Hannes Páll recalls. “We were a young company and the festival was one of the first large events we organized. Last year, we did a much better job reaching the local community and involving them in the festival.”
In 2011, 40 visitors came specifically to Iceland to participate in Rainbow Reykjavík, a number which doubled in 2012. This year, Hannes Páll estimates that around 70 visitors will fly to Iceland to attend the festival. Most of the visitors expected this year are from the US and Canada, but guests are also flying in from Britain, Germany and France. More men than women have booked tickets this year and their ages range from 25 to 60.
The program offered at Rainbow Reykjavík is limited, and the festival is organized more as a packaged tour rather than a conventional cultural festival. People who purchase tickets for the whole package are offered attractions such as visits to the Blue Lagoon, a northern lights hunt and the ubiquitous Golden Circle bus tour. The whole package will set participants back 89,000 ISK.
However, people can also purchase tickets to individual events, such as the Dinner and Divas Party , a dinner and show at Restaurant Reykjavík on Friday, January 31st (10,900 ISK; 9,900 for members of Samtökin 78), and the Pink Masquerade Party with Paul Oscar, a ball held at Iðnó on Saturday, February 1st (2,500 ISK; 1,500 ISK for members of Samtökin 78).
“Last year, more than a hundred people attended the festival dinner,” says Hannes Páll, “and around 400 attended the masquerade ball. We anticipate that attendance this year will be similar, but we hope for more!”
Iceland has been marketed abroad as a LGBTQ friendly destination, but according to Hannes Páll, it is not necessarily the LGBTQ culture that attracts visitors, but rather the country itself. “Our guests are very impressed with the level of equality and acceptance in our society, but they don’t come here to go clubbing. They come here to experience Icelandic nature. We aim to introduce the best of Icelandic nature, culture and LGBTQ life to our foreign guests.”
People who attend the festival become fast friends by the end of the three days. “Last year, one of our visitors was a seventy year old lesbian from Canada who had only recently come of the closet. Her daughter purchased the ticket to Rainbow Reykjavík for her birthday, and this was the first time she had been amongst other LGBTQ people. She celebrated her birthday while she was in Iceland, and we sang for her during our farewell party. There was not a dry eye in the house. She partied at the Pink Masquerade Ball until three in the morning and left just in time to take the bus back to the airport.”