More tourists than ever are visiting Iceland to see the northern lights, according to Grétar Jónsson, founder and director of Aurora Reykjavík.
Grétar says this season has been the biggest yet for the tour operator, which offers northern light tours alongside its exhibition space in central Reykjavík. “February was really, really good for us, because we had many bad weather days,” says Grétar. “Then they close the roads outside Reykjavík and all the tourists are trapped in Reykjavík and they’re looking for something to do. That’s good for us.”
How does this season compare to past seasons?
“It is still growing, but the growth is not as big as, maybe, 2016. That was the biggest growth year. So we are seeing more tourists this year than any other year, but the growth isn’t quite as dramatic.”
“The most increase has been from the United States … And now we’re getting a pretty steady number of tourists from Asia too.”
Why do you think there are more people who are coming to see the northern lights in Iceland?
“The increase of winter tourists is more than the increase of the summer tourists in Iceland. I think it’s because of good marketing by Inspired by Iceland, and their goal was to focus on the winter tourists and I think they have been doing a pretty good job. And it seems to be that the northern lights are kind of a trend on people’s bucket lists all around the world.”
Where are a lot of the tourists you’re seeing coming from?
“The most increase has been from the United States. It used to be that we saw most of them from the United Kingdom, but that has been pretty steady now, so most of the increase now has been from the U.S. And now we’re getting a pretty steady number of tourists from Asia too.”
How do folks react when they finally do see the lights?
“It varies a lot. Some people are crazy happy enough to cry. While others get a little bit disappointed because they’re not as colourful as they expected. The tourists from Asia, they are often super excited to see just a glimpse of them, but the Americans are a little bit both — some are excited, some are not so happy.”
What is it that makes the tourists from Asia so happy?
“I think that there are some stories or myths that they have in their minds that it creates some kind of luck if you manage to see them. So they don’t care if they’re crazy, dancing lights or just a little glimpse — if they see it, then they have the luck.”
Where in the country do you take tourists to see the northern lights?
“It depends on the cloud circumstances, but if it’s clear everywhere we usually go to Þingvellir or maybe on the South Shore. But there are many tour operators, and they always try to find a spot with no other tour operators.”
“The increase of winter tourists is more than the increase of the summer tourists in Iceland.”
Has there been more competition between tour operators in the last few years?
“There’s definitely more competition among the tour operators. I can especially see it in the prices, because they are dropping the prices and they’re trying to have different features than others.”
What are some of the services you offer at Aurora Reykjavík?
“We have a range of services at our northern lights centre. First, we have people telling old stories about northern lights from the olden days from different countries. Then we explain the science part, and how it’s coming from the sun. Then we have this big theater with a widescreen and we have a little bit of the landscape in there, we have trees and rocks so you feel a little bit like you’re sitting outside.”
Grétar says that before the tourists go out on the tour, Aurora Reykjavík has information about how to set up their camera, and they can try out their camera for northern lights photographing, so they can get prepared for the real thing. “Then we have the forecast for the lights, and in the end we have a gift store with free coffee and tea for everybody. There we also have virtual reality goggles with 360 degree northern lights.”
He adds that Aurora Reykjavík is always trying to add more to the experience of tourists who visit to see the northern lights. To learn more about Aurora Reykjavík or to book a northern lights tour, visit www.aurorareykjavik.is.