Hoppa yfir valmynd
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Seminar on Tourism

Minister's Address at a Seminar on Tourism in Tokyo, Japan
22 October 2001


Mínasan, konitsí-wa,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The great philosopher, Confucius, once said: "What a pleasure to receive friends from far away". Even though Confucius may not be as well known in Iceland as here in Japan, these words describe the attitude of Icelanders toward tourism. Tourists are very welcome in Iceland, especially those who come from distant countries such as Japan.

The steady increase in foreign tourists coming to Iceland every year demonstrates that Iceland has lot to offer. Last year, over three hundred thousand tourists visited Iceland, which is more than the total population of Iceland, which according to the latest count is around 284.000. Most of those visitors stay for relatively short time, but an increasing number stays longer and travels around the country. Thus, the importance of tourism in the economy is growing fast and last year it accounted for 13% of the Iceland's income from foreign sources.

In light of this generally bright picture I must admit that I believe that we can do better in promoting Iceland here in Japan as the ideal country to visit. This could coincide with the general increase of Asian tourists going to Iceland in recent years. The number of Japanese tourists coming to Iceland last year was under 3.000 or less than 1% of the total incoming tourists.

However, on an optimistic note, I think that the mere fact that we can improve the situation certainly sets us challenges for the future. And that brings me to the point that this week we will be opening officially the new Icelandic embassy here in Tokyo. One of the main functions of the embassy will be to promote and to facilitate tourism between our two countries.

But another aspect important in this regard is what the governments can do to promote our relations in this area. Then I am not just referring to Japanese tourists coming to Iceland but also Icelandic tourists coming to Japan. Today Japan is more considered a country to visit for business purposes but I believe that with the opening of the embassies in Reykjavík and Tokyo all the wonders, the landscape, people, culture and history could in the future draw more attention to Japan in this respect.

I think important would be to look mutually into measures like facilitating air traffic between Iceland and Japan. Another aspect could be to initiate formal talks on co-operation agreement in the area of tourism from which both countries would benefit.

I think that the mixture of similarities and contrasts between Iceland and Japan should make Iceland especially interesting to Japanese tourists. Iceland is a volcanic country like Japan with hot springs and abundance of seafood. However, unlike Japan, Iceland is sparsely populated country and its natural landscape has hardly been touched by human activity. Most of our hotsprings spring naturally from the earth and our rivers flow naturally to the sea.
Iceland is an Island country of Ice and Fire as is symbolized in the Icelandic flag. The blue color stands for the clear blue sky above and the sea around the country, the white color stands for the snow and ice, and the red color stands for the fire below, the volcanoes and the hotsprings.

In some places Iceland the elements of ice and fire meet in one place, with hotsprings in the middle of huge glacier; the water from them forming rivers flowing from below the glaciers.

In the summer time we have light nights with the sun shining into the night and on a clear night in the winter the aurora dances in the dark sky.

In promoting Iceland as a tourist destination for Japanese tourists the Embassy of Iceland will have close cooperation with the newly established marketing company of Icelandair in Tokyo. Our embassies will also play a significant role. Here I would like to highlight the importance of the Internet as the speedway of information flow. Iceland has already published information material in relation to the opening of our embassy here in Japan. This will be continued and also here I believe we could have mutual benefits in exchanging material of this kind.

Even though world tourism is hard hit by the terrorists I believe that the tourist industry will recover and its importance to the world economy will continue to grow. However, the concern about safety may decrease the relative importance of big urban centers as tourist destinations and increase the popularity of relatively sparsely populated places where people go to relax and enjoy natural beauty of the surroundings.

Under these difficult circumstances it is worth bearing in mind that Iceland is considered a safe destination. Actually the same can be said for all the Nordic countries where for instance the crime rate is among the lowest in the world. It is our understanding that Japan could also in this respect be regarded as a safe destination and in this we could maybe explore avenues of mutual interests.

So as you can hear I am actually quite optimistic that the Embassy will have good success in promoting our mutual interests in this area.

On these positive notes for the future I conclude my opening remarks and open this seminar which will hopefully brings us closer together in this very important area.

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