Affordable. Accessible. Exotic. These probably are not the first words that one associates with Iceland. Yet for meeting planners, these are three of the most significant qualities of this North Atlantic destination.
Iceland, located in the North Atlantic between Europe and the United States, has been in the headlines in recent years for two calamities: last year’s eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull (E15) volcano, which shut down air traffic in and out of Europe for a number of days; and an especially harsh reaction to the global financial meltdown of 2008. The two events have had good and bad effects on this nation of 300,000: The volcano has evolved into a tourist curiosity, and the value of the national currency, the krona, has remained relatively depressed, rendering a historically pricey destination a bargain for visitors from the U.S. and Europe. For groups, the March/April and September/October shoulder seasons offer the best rates.
Meeting planners considering Iceland will be happy to know that the long-planned Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, a multiuse facility overlooking Reykjavik’s harbor, opened in May. Final touches on the structure’s façade will be completed in time for a grand opening in August 2011. It includes a dramatic main concert hall that can seat up to 1,700; a meeting hall that can accommodate up to 750; two 63-seat meeting rooms, and eight smaller rooms. The striking building was designed to allow several events to take place simultaneously.
The Harpa spaces supplement smaller meeting venues available in Reykjavik's convention-friendly hotels. Guest rooms in the city number about 2,000; that figure will increase next year when a new 111-room hotel opens near the harbor.
Service levels in Iceland’s hotels and restaurants are high; English is widely spoken and Icelanders are outgoing and well educated. Reykjavik, where two-thirds of the country lives, is safe and easily navigated. It’s located about five hours from the U.S. East Coast and three hours from Western Europe, making it a logical site solution for events drawing from the two continents. Several airlines reach Iceland from the U.S.; Icelandair, the national carrier, flies to Reykjavik’s Keflavik International Airport via 31 gateways in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, including the recently added Washington Dulles Airport.
Iceland’s “fire and ice” attributes set it apart from other destinations. Volcanic, glacial, and geothermal activity have sculpted the landscape, which presents dramatic contrasts of seacoast, mountains, glaciers, green spaces, and moonscape. Some 50 golf courses, horseback riding, the famous Blue Lagoon hot springs< http://www.bluelagoon.com/Meetings/>, the 190-mile Golden Circle sightseeing road, and the Northern Lights are popular visitor attractions. Dining—especially from the bounty of the sea, Icelandic lamb and abundant hothouse-grown produce—is also a treat.