Iceland’s Plan To (Responsibly?) Welcome Tourists This Summer

Filed Under: Icelandair

It goes without saying that we’re probably all itching to go somewhere, the question just comes down to when it’s responsible to travel again, and deciding if the answer varies based on where you go.

That’s why I think it’s worth monitoring the plans being proposed by some countries to reopen to tourists, to get a sense of what the future might look like.

Iceland’s plan to open to tourists as of June 15, 2020

Iceland’s Prime Minister has this week announced plans for a big summer tourist season. Iceland plans to welcome tourists from around the globe no later than June 15, 2020, though there will be some conditions.

Most notably, visitors will have to do one of the following:

Presumably the most exciting option here is being able to take a test upon arrival. You won’t even have to wait at the airport, but rather you’ll be able to enter the country, and will receive results same day.

The country is still ironing out some details, like how much the COVID-19 testing will cost. Furthermore, the government isn’t ruling out the possibility of opening up the country earlier, if preparations can be made in time.

Furthermore, visitors will have to install an app so that there can be contact tracing.

Iceland has handled this pandemic well

What makes Iceland welcoming tourists interesting is that the country has by all accounts done a great job handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The country:

  • Has just over 350,000 citizens
  • Has just about a dozen active COVID-19 cases, and no new cases for the past six days
  • Has done among the most testing of any country (in terms of percentage of the population)

Is it responsible to travel to Iceland?

I think there’s a lot of value in at least openly discussing what a return to vacationing will look like. Personally I’m not ready to plan anything yet as I want to see how this unfolds, though I wonder if Iceland should be at the top of peoples’ bucket lists for those looking to travel abroad?

When I recently wrote about the potential considerations for deciding when it’s “responsible” to travel, it seems that many concerns are addressed by Iceland’s plan:

  • Iceland wants tourists to visit, so it’s not like you’re going somewhere you’re not welcome
  • Iceland has done a great job with the COVID-19 pandemic, so this is a country that has taken the threat seriously and also acted decisively
  • Iceland is a country where social distancing is easier than many other places in the world, given the focus on nature and relatively low population density
  • Iceland will offer testing on arrival, making Iceland one of the first countries to encourage this for all inbound tourists

In other words, it seems Iceland is addressing most of the concerns people could have about traveling, short of just waiting for a vaccine?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing everyone should go to Iceland, and for that matter I’m wondering if encouraging widespread tourism could backfire.

But I also think it’s at least worth discussing a country that has handled this situation well and has a plan for bringing back tourism.

Bottom line

Iceland plans to welcome tourists from around the world as of June 15, 2020. The country plans to offer testing on arrival to allow people to skip a 14-day quarantine, though it’s not yet known how much that will cost.

Personally I’m not quite ready to travel yet, and once I do travel I plan to travel domestically first. However, I will say that if I were to travel internationally this summer, Iceland might just be at the top of my list based on how well the country has handled the situation so far, and the plan the country has for tourists.

What do you make of Iceland opening up to tourists this summer and offering testing on arrival? Would you feel safe traveling there? Do you think it’s more “responsible” to travel to Iceland than elsewhere?

  1. This is responsible and well thought through. I applaud Iceland and hope other countries follow suit. We have to get the travel industry moving again – jobs and indeed whole economies depend upon it.

  2. They have the virus under control, are pretty much a “green zone,” and they want to throw the doors open to the US?

    It’s not a decision I’d make, but I guess they really need the money.

    In practical terms: what does Iceland do if someone tests positive? This virus is insanely contagious. Everyone on the plane could have gotten it. You either let the virus rip come what may (in which case there’s no point in doing testing), or you potentially have to quarantine an entire flight and do contact tracing.

    If there’s a risk of being quarantined in Iceland for 14 days, who’d want to take the risk of traveling? Who pays for the quarantine? Lots of unanswered questions here.

  3. I think the idea of testing upon arrival is likely to become a reality for any country that is serious about welcoming tourists. Especially if they can turn around test results in a matter of hours.

    Better yet, departure airports can set up testing stations. Imagine taking a COVID test at IAD/YYZ/ORD before a flight to Europe. The test runs overnight and you get the result as you land in Europe. Or if we get super quick turnaround times (under 4 hours), I could see a world in which you get to the airport really early, take the test, and then board for your destination.

    It would be a new world for sure, but there is a way to do this.

  4. Excited to hear this. I have my honeymoon starting in August to iceland as of now, and am looking forward to running in the marathon. Glad to hear they have a plan, hopefully we’re on our way towards a safe and more open world again.

  5. How much are tests? I think I read somewhere it was around $200. Does anyone know if that’s correct?

    Adds a fair bit to a vacation price for say a family of 4. Still, it’s a great idea.

  6. The hotch potch rules and regulations current and future by 200 plus countries is going to make international travel a real chess-like planning process. Travelers will have to have a master grid/matrix in front of them to see if they can get from A to B then to C without restrictions, quarantines.

    Iceland needs cash as does every country. But there are many unanswered questions as TProphet points out. What happens when your test comes back positive? You’ll no doubt, upon arrival in Iceland, have to provide authorities with your itinerary, where you will be staying on any given day if they need to come and get you. Then you’re faced with what? Answering questions about where you were, when, how long so that Icelandic authorities can trace others who came in contact with you. Imposed isolation? Taken to a hospital in Iceland! The expense of such a hospitalization in Iceland! A potentially risky trip; a nightmare scenario that must be taken into account when thinking about international travel.

    And don’t forget this scenario: You arrive in Iceland, get tested, it’s negative and you happy go lucky romp around the island. Then you get a knock on your hotel door and the authorities are there to trace you and inform you that a person on your flight tested positive! Then what? On and on are the unanswered questions and possibilities for a ‘trip of a lifetime’ to become one of sheer trouble.

    No thanks. I’ll do staycations until this entire madness is settled – if ever.

  7. It’ll be interesting to see if people either rush to Iceland now or not. I’ve always viewed Iceland as a destination that as soon as they open up the country, I’m going because I expected the initial opening to lack tourists (in a country where overtourism has been a recent issue and a reason why I personally have avoided Iceland). But if they’re one of the first and only places to open up, then I’m expecting a pretty big rush (kinda like what happened when Cuba first opened up to US citizens a few years back).

  8. Let Iceland give it a try. If a small island country can do it right and be a positive example, maybe others will follow. Just make sure that your home country doesn’t require you to quarantine for 14 days upon your return or at least prepare yourself for that.

  9. In mg opinion, the testing has to be done with results before you get on the plane. Otherwise, there’s no telling who on the plane caught it, and might test positive once the virus incubates

  10. An interesting experiment I’m not sure I”m ready to be a lab rat yet. If there was testing before boarding I might be a little more willing.

  11. We have a pre-planned trip to Ireland on June 24. We obviously had every intention of canceling. We aren’t sure what to do now.

  12. I would hope most people would opt for the recent negative certificate (even with its own limitations). If the authorities do their job and track down any positives on arrival you may get stuck in quarantine or get sent back.
    Either way, as a traveler I would rather avoid the hassle and know before I go.

  13. So, you’re saying, if I go to Iceland, I can get a covid test upon landing, whereas I can’t even get one here?

  14. 1. How many ICU hospital beds with ventilators does Iceland have? I hope that number does not become a focus of everyone’s attention in a few weeks…
    2. Testing people upon arrival and letting them go on their merry way awaiting the results is a recipe for disaster.
    3. Exactly how effective are those tests? Better be pretty close to 100% or else a world of trouble will follow.
    4. Testing people after they’ve all spent at least a few hours on a plane seems fairly useless. Testing – and getting results – needs to happen before anyone is allowed to board their outbound flights, not after them.

    If I lived in Iceland, I’d be very, very worried about this. I wish them well and hope this works out, but there are so many ways this can easily go very, very wrong.

  15. As of May 13,2020-

    Iceland- Actual:
    1802 total cases of Covid 19
    10 total deaths

    Iceland-Based on Population: (adjusted “per million”)
    5281 cases per million
    29 deaths per million
    161,395 tests per million

    USA-Based on Population: (adjusted “per million”)
    4297 cases per million
    580 deaths per million
    30,593 tests per million

    Adjusted for population, Iceland has far more cases of Covid 19 but has far, far fewer deaths.
    This is likely due to their much greater number of tests which finds more positive cases in otherwise asymptomatic people. Fewer deaths can likely be attributed to this as well. Iceland likely has a generally healthier and perhaps younger population.

  16. @ Hal

    “So, you’re saying, if I go to Iceland, I can get a covid test upon landing, whereas I can’t even get one here?” Made me literally laugh out loud!

    Here in Contra Costa County in CA (one of the bay area counties) we have very recently gotten the chance to get a test regardless of symptoms. But I’m guessing it’s not a widespread thing at all yet.

  17. @ Erik J

    Yeah, I think we are only catching about 1 in 10 of the actual covid-19 cases, and it may even be less than that.

  18. I’m not doing international travel anytime soon until things are ironed out and there’s close to certainty I’m traveling safely. Until then I’ll watch and daydream.

  19. Since I recently tested Covid antibody positive, would a copy of the lab results suffice?

  20. I think if the COVID test was free or subsidised (around $40), Iceland would be seeing a lot of tourism resume. Maybe even the weird new WOW Air could start business under these circumstances

    The only problem then becomes having to quarantine for 14 days when going home (more and more countries requiring this).

  21. @ Daniel – “But I’m guessing it’s not a widespread thing at all yet.”

    Um, hell no, especially if you live in Floriduh!! Good luck getting an appointment for a test, let alone just walking or driving up and getting one.

  22. And I’d like to follow up with, I’m flying out late next week domestically and I would like to know that I am negative before I fly. So when I try to make an appointment and they ask me for my symptoms, and I say I don’t have any…. DENIED!!! So this needs to be worked out for us to get back up in the air safely. Come on, Floriduh, we are a tourist state.

  23. It will be interesting to watch this play out. I had a cruise that stopped in Iceland cancelled for July and the tour company I booked with went bankrupt. The Icelandic Tourist Board notified me that their permit was suspended and we won’t be getting our money back.

  24. @ Marky Mark

    Yeah that’s wild. Actually they would probably accept you AFTER your trip if you say you very likely came in contact with people testing positive. I’m taking a domestic flight on Friday since I’m moving and I might get a test when I get back regardless of symptoms. Since that will be more potential exposure than I’ve had since February when I went to Philippines and Seattle.

  25. Without knowing with certainty how long one has to be infected before the test results are positive Iceland would have to be absolutely desperate to allow tourists from countries with high infection rates. Some Asian countries might be ok but as for many others it would only be a matter of time before infected people unknowingly are permitted to enter. Undoubtedly the only secure means would be a limited quarantine (several days) followed by a test

  26. “Furthermore, the government isn’t ruling out the possibility of opening up the country earlier, if preparations can be made in time.”

    @Lucky, that would only apply to EEA/EFTA/EU citizens, given the Schengen Area, of which Iceland is a member, will remain closed until June 15th.

    And, after June 15th, it’s possible the Schengen Area could still be off limits to U.S. travelers, depending on the state of the U.S. epidemic.

    I don’t think Americans should expect to be able to travel to the Schengen Area until September at the earliest.

    That said, as an EU passport holder — a dual citizen — I might even be willing to quarantine for 14 days in Europe in order to be able to spend a month or so in Europe without the hassle of mass tourism.

  27. As noted, the concerns around getting a positive test result from anyone on your flight is enough to keep me away, at least for a while to see how things go.

    I’d also be looking at potential costs should things go sideways – you get sick and can’t travel home for weeks, you book a trip and then Iceland shuts down again due to a surge in cases, etc.

    On the plus side, much of what you do in Iceland is outside and on your own. If you can minimize crowding at popular destinations, at least that should help reduce the odds of a bigger outbreak.

  28. I think Iceland is desperate to earn money this summer. That is why it is opening up as a gamble worth taking.
    However, to make this whole thing a success, the visitors need to be that desperate too, irrespective of the consequences.
    On a conservative note, I would wait at least till end of August or early September before launching myself on a vacation. Of course things will ease out in time, but just because Iceland wants the money now, I would not jump into the fray. The consequences could be a “ disaster vacation’. However I am quite sure some people will still go right away. The patient will wait and watch for a while.

  29. @TProphet, the flight might actually be the safest part of travel right now actually. While you’re expised to a significant risk in both the departing and arriving airport (and of course connecting airport ,if there is one) the flight is actually the safest part. The reason for this is because airplanes are equipped with industrial-grade filters that catch virus particles, and this air circulates every 3 minutes on average. Even the CDC acknowledges this on their website and confirms it. Not that this really changes travel in general, however, but it’s good to remember. The airports are really your danger zones.

  30. @Saibal Chatterjee, I don’t blame people for wanting to be cautious, although I have been wondering… how do the opinions change if people required COVID antibody passports? Would travelers feel safer? The rapid tests for antibodies is not very trustworthy, but the blood tests are increasingly trustworthy. If passengers could supply this documentation of antibodies in their system, should they be allowed into a country for tourism? Thoughts?

  31. I think other countries will adopt this, but it would be far better if the test were done before you get on the plane. As for cost, I think travel in general is by necessity going to be more expensive. The cost of testing will be part of that.

  32. Just to highlight, I don’t think they’ve thought through what happens if a tourist tests positive. I mean, examine the steps — tourists arrive, maybe some temperature screenings along the way, get to keflavik and have test taken. Tourists all get on a bus together and proceed to their hotels an hour away in reykjavik. A tourist checks into hotel, enjoys a relaxing trip to the public pool/sauna, and then gets back to the hotel with the news that the test was positive. How do they trace and quarantine everyone the tourist came into contact with? What do they do with all the other tourists expecting to enjoy a vacation in Iceland but now require quarantine due to possible exposure (on the bus, at the hotel, etc)? The only way I can see this working is if tourists from each flight are kept in quarantine until test results are available. Then all can either be released into the country, or enjoy a 14-day stay in isolation at an airport hotel.

  33. To answer one of the questions: the Icelandic authorities have said that installing a contact tracing app on your smartphone will be mandatory for everyone entering the country. Presumably, those without an iPhone or Android phone will be required to quarantine for two weeks.

  34. Mein Flug nach Island wurde bereits im November letzten Jahres gebucht und ich freue mich seitdem auf den Urlaub. Natürlich werde ich fahren, wenn es möglich ist. Den Test werde ich aber lieber kurz vorher machen und dann die Bescheinigung vorzeigen. Alles andere wäre mir dann doch zu riskant… Eigentlich hoffe ich, dass der Test VOR dem Abflug sowieso Pflicht wird. Zur Sicherheit aller Reisenden. Das sollte aber auch im Sinne der Isländer sein, die dann gar nicht erst kranke Personen einreisen lassen.

  35. This makes sense. Outside of the Reykjavik area, social distancing is practically automatic in Iceland. The last time I was there, I would often go hours without seeing another car on the road, or another human in places I stopped.

  36. I am a French citizen and plan arriving to Iceland in June 15th, so these good new come just in time!
    The question is still whether the COVID-19 tests will be offered for free or not.
    Please share information on this matter if you have such.

  37. @David,

    While almost all airplanes have HEPA air filters, I don’t think you can consider them the safest part of the trip. The CDC site says don’t travel unless it’s required travel, and while filtration may stop germs from spreading, “there may be a risk of getting COVID-19 on crowded flights”.

    For me, the most informative article was this one in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago, with a terrifying graphic on how germs spread on a plane. During SARS, there were documented cases of people getting it 7 rows in front.

    So you pay your money and take your chances. I’ve got flights booked to NYC in August, but will wear a mask, wipe down all surfaces and go through a 14 day quarantine when I return…

  38. Covid tests will be for couple of months at least free of charge. Get tested at the airport go to your hotel and wait there for the results (approx.4 hours) Americans are allowed to arrive from 15th of June. We are not desperate for tourists or money it is simple we are an island and we need to have flights in and out of the country for import export. Of course tourism is good for the tourist sector but nobody is expecting high season this summer, but it is much better to open up while people are less willing to travel so we can see how it goes. We have had amazing response team (professionals not politicians), enough ventilators and good hospitals, we are prepared. All decisions about opening boarders have been taken on advice of our epidemiologist and doctors which have done a great job here. So if you wan’t to travel I think Iceland is probably the safest place you can go to.

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