Both Iceland and Canada continue to welcome growing numbers of visitors to each of our countries, many of whom come specifically for the opportunity to experience our parks and other natural wonders.
Foreign tourists visiting Iceland have increased nearly eight-fold over the last 20 years. While numbering only 280,000 in 2002, Iceland expects to see approximately 2.2 million tourist arrivals in 2023 (RÚV / Icelandic Tourism Association). Canada welcomed an all-time high of 22 million overnight international tourists in 2019 and expects to receive over 28 million annual overnight visitors by 2030 (Destination Canada).
However, such growth can put a significant strain on these natural sites and can cause harm to the environment. This can be a particular challenge for smaller communities or remote destinations. This recent RÚV story concerning Iceland's Landmannalaugar offers one illustrative example.
During the webinar, panelists from Iceland and Canada shared insights into the challenges they have encountered over the last few years in this regard as well as approaches they have taken to protecting the natural integrity of these beautiful outdoor destinations for generations to come.
11:30 a.m. - 11:35 a.m.
- Welcome remarks by Ambassador Hlynur Guðjónsson, Embassy of Iceland
- Opening remarks by Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Business Affairs, Government of Iceland
1 1:40 - 12:25: Panel discussion and Q&A
- Arnar Már Ólafsson, Director General, Icelandic Tourist Board
- Einar Á.E. Sæmundsen, Director, Þingvellir National Park
- Tobi Nussbaum, Chief Executive Officer, National Capital Commission
- Gracen Chungath, Senior VP, Destination Development, Destination Canada
- Lilja Alfredsdóttir has served as Iceland's Minister of Culture and Business Affairs since 28th November 2021 and is a former Minister of Education, Science and Culture and Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade. She has represented the constituency of Reykjavík South in Iceland's Althingi (parliament) since 2016 and is a member of the Progressive Party. Her ministry oversees Iceland's tourism industry, among other responsibilities.
- Arnar Már Ólafsson , Director General, Icelandic Tourist Board : Arnar Már joined the Icelandic Tourist Board in March 2023, bringing with him 25 years of experience in Iceland's tourism industry. Prior to his current role he served as Chief Commercial Officer with Icelandia, Director of Marketing for Icelandic Mountain Guides, Co-owner of Iceland Rovers, and as an Assistant Professor and Director of the Tourism department at the University of Akureyri. The Icelandic Tourist Board monitors and promotes the development of tourism as an important and sustainable pillar of the Icelandic economy, taking into account the carrying capacity of Icelandic nature and society. It also facilitates coordination, analyzes and research in the tourism sector in accordance with government policy.
- Alison McKay , Vice President, Destination Management, Destination British Columbia: Alison oversees Destination BC's destination management programs, with a focus on supporting the revitalization of a strong and sustainable tourism sector. She leads the Destination Management team in implementing annual plans, programs and projects; work with the executive team to support corporate-wide projects, such as Invest in Iconics, Destination Stewardship, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility; and collaborates with Indigenous Tourism BC on projects specific to Indigenous communities. Alison joined Destination BC in 2006 and Alison holds a Masters of Applied Environmental Studies: Tourism Policy & Planning from the University of Waterloo. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the outdoors with her family in their home of Coquitlam on the unceded traditional territory of the Coast Salish Peoples and the Kwikwetlem First Nation.
- Einar Á.E. Sæmundsen, Director, Þingvellir National Park : Einar holds a Master's degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Minnesota and a B.Sc in Geography from the University of Iceland. Iceland's first national park and a UNESCO world heritage site, Þingvellir was established in 1928. The Þingvellir area is praised as the national shrine of Iceland due to its great historical and geological significance. The Alþingi, or Iceland's parliament, was founded there as early as 930, and its landscapes were formed in the unique geographical setting of a rift valley between the North American and Eurasian continental plates.
- Gracen Chungath : In her role as Senior VP at Canada's national destination marketing organization, Gracen is deeply involved in the design and development of a pan-Canadian strategy for Destination Development focusing on investment, strategic partnerships, stewardship and capacity building. In this capacity, Gracen plays an important role in Canada's transition to a thriving, regenerative visitor economy that Canadians recognize as contributing to a high quality of life with net economic, socio-cultural and environmental benefits. Gracen holds an MSc in Public Policy from SOAS at the University of London and an MBA in Marketing from Creighton University, Omaha. In her past role as Director, Operations, Planning & Program Management for the City of Vancouver, Gracen led three divisions and stewarded a multi-billion dollar real estate portfolio which, includes arts, cultural, social, childcare and affordable housing facilities.
- Tobi Nussbaum , Chief Executive Officer, National Capital Commissio : A graduate of Queen's University, the University of Victoria, and Harvard University, Tobi has focused his career on finding solutions to public problems, from the global to the local, including serving as chief executive officer of the NCC since 2019. His professional experience has included work as a senior civil servant, diplomat, lawyer and city councillor. He joined the Canadian Foreign Service in 1996 and postings included work at the United Nations in New York, and on international trade policy in Geneva. At home, he served in the Department of Global Affairs and the Privy Council Office on a range of foreign, trade and social policy issues. He also represented Canada as the co-chair of the International Network on Conflict and Fragility housed at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).