The number of weddings that queer travel agency Pink Iceland organize doubled last year and this year is already looking very busy. Tours involving wedding ceremonies are now the agency‘s main aspect and it already has weddings booked for 2019.
“The figure more than doubled between 2014 and 2015 and now we already have twice as many weddings booked for this year as we had in January last year,” says Hannes Páll Pálsson, organizer at Pink Iceland. Pink Iceland was founded in 2011 as a travel agency that specializes in planning trips and events for queer people visiting Iceland. It started small, as a side job of the two founders but has grown fast and last year the company doubled in size.
Hannes says that with the small wedding ceremonies, a lot of Pink Iceland‘s input revolves around paperwork. “We check the papers beforehand and make sure that the couples bring all the necessary documents and that they‘re valid. It can be quite stressful to get married in another country and finding your way through the jungle of paperwork but we now have so much experience that we even know that if someone is from Oregon, they need a different document to those living in California; we have built a database with this sort of information.”
Then of course, the couple need an officiant, or a celebrant as they‘re often called, to perform the ceremony. It can be a priest but often it‘s a Nordic chieftain from The Old Nordic Pagan Association or a Magistrate. But Hannes says that in most cases, the couple go with a celebrant from Siðmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association.
Obviously, the location plays a big role as majority of the weddings take place outdoors. Hannes says that the most popular area is within 2-3 hours‘ drive from Reykjavík, to keep the cost down.
“The National Park at Þingvellir is very popular because it‘s just difficult to find a spot there that isn‘t beautiful. Waterfalls are always popular because they make such great backdrop for photo shoots. Other favourite landmarks are Reynisfjara and Dyrhólaey and the whole of Snæfellsnes which is spectacular all over and West Iceland is becoming increasingly popular with places such as Barnafossar and Hraunfossar waterfalls.
What Icelanders don‘t really appreciate are the open spaces in this country. I was working with a couple once who picked a rather ordinary spot, in my opinion, but they were in awe of the wide open space around them, being used to always having houses or trees somewhere around them!”
Surprisingly, not only queer couples seek out Pink Iceland‘s service. Quite a few straight couples have gotten married in Iceland with their help and Hannes estimates that around forty percent of last year‘s weddings were for heterosexual couples.
“We are a one hundred percent queer company, the owners and most of the staff is queer and all our marketing material is aimed at queer people. We‘re doing this job because we enjoy it and we would never try to hide who we are and what we stand for in order to become more mainstream and make more money. But of course, everybody is welcome to use our services, we would never discriminate against anyone because of their sexual orientation,” Hannes says with a twinkle in his eye.
Pink Iceland sometimes gets requests from straight people, half apologising for not being queer. “So I jokingly tell them it‘s OK, that I personally have nothing against straight people, some of my closest friends are straight, my parents are straight and I‘m very used to working with people like them,” Hannes continues and laughs, adding it‘s quite amusing being in the position of saying this now, after 20 years of being at the receiving end of such remarks.
Bitter sweet stories
Very often, the couples come to Iceland on their own, without friends and family, so the ceremonies are small and intimate. “But sometimes the wedding party consists of around 20-30 people or even up to 50 people. I‘m currently planning a wedding for 100 people, scheduled for 2018,” says Hannes and adds that Pink Iceland already has bookings for weddings in 2019.
“Iceland has become such a popular destination so it‘s better to book well in advance. If somebody were to call me now wanting to throw a wedding of 50-60 people in South of Iceland in July or August, I would tell them straight away it‘s near impossible.”
A lot of the weddings are secret weddings; sometimes the couple just wants an intimate ceremony and not the pressure of a big wedding but a lot of the queer weddings take place without the knowledge of the family of either or both parties. “We‘re very invested in what we do and we get to know the couples well and we care for them, so such stories are terribly sad to hear.”
Hannes recalls a man who has a big family – and at the time even lived with his parents – all of whom he loves very much but none of them knew he was gay. So he told his family he was only going on holiday for a few days while in reality, he was going to Iceland to marry the man he loves and never coming back. The couple had been in a secret relationship for seven years and moved to another country right after the wedding. “We keep in touch and it‘s wonderful to see how happy they are, but sadly this was the only way for them to be together.”
The weather not an issue
Extreme weather is one of Iceland‘s characteristics but as it turns out, it rarely interrupts the weddings or Pink Iceland‘s trips in general. “We‘ve gotten used to seeing things from the visitors’ point of view, which is to be excited about the weather, whatever the weather. We sometimes get disappointed when we‘ve planned a trip or a wedding and the weather is horrible, but our guests just find it exciting to have a storm or snowfall, the forces of nature participating. This is why people choose Iceland and they know they can expect all kinds of weather, especially in winter. We actually encourage people to get married in winter time because it‘s easier to manage the expectations then, you expect hail in November but not in June.”
In any case, the weather never gets to ruin the day as Hannes and the team at Pink Iceland make adjustments if needed so that the wedding day will always be magical. “Last spring we had a couple flying in from the States on the 3rd of May and the wedding was planned up on top of Dyrhólaey the day after. However, there was an extreme storm on its way so I made lots of phone calls on the morning of their arrival, talked to the caterer, the hotel, the make-up and hair people and so on. Their plane landed around 6am and I had a meeting with them at 9am where I told them there were good news and bad news: “The bad news is, we can‘t go through with the wedding tomorrow because there‘s a storm coming. The good news is that we can go through with the wedding today instead.” – Everybody was just willing to move the ceremony forward so that they could have the wedding they wanted and they managed to get married that evening on top of Dyrhólaey, in beautiful weather with spectacular scenery.”
First and foremost, though, Pink Iceland is a travel agency and Hannes says they don‘t hesitate to insist that the whole wedding party book their trip through Pink Iceland.
“We have an Honesty Policy which is prominent on our website where we explain how we operate and that we rely on commission so when people ask us to plan their wedding, we ask in return that they encourage their guests to use our services. So if we‘re planning a wedding with 60 guests, and half of those decide to travel around Iceland in pairs, we often end up organizing 15 self-drive holidays in relations to that single wedding.
So yes, we are busy but we enjoy what we‘re doing and we don‘t offer wedding packages because we want each wedding to be unique and tailor-made for each couple. It‘s all about them and their love, nothing else.”