HomeTravelTourists are back in Iceland. But so is whale hunting

Tourists are back in Iceland. But so is whale hunting

Reykjavik, Iceland (CNN) — After a four-year hiatus, Iceland’s final remaining whaling firm, Hvalur hf., will resume its hunt this summer time, a lot to the chagrin of tourism officers.

As the Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impression on Iceland’s tourism business, backlash over whaling is the very last thing many tourism officers need.

“It is actually well known and widely reported that the tourism industry believes that whaling hurts Iceland’s image as a tourism destination,” mentioned Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, the chief director of the Icelandic Tourist Board. “All you need do is look at how whaling is reported on in the foreign press.”

“It is often reported in larger publications with heated coverage,” continued Jóhannes. “In the tourism industry, both in private companies and in public polls; in letters, phone calls, and in other communications, whaling has a very precise effect, and tourism companies feel it the moment whaling enters the discussion again.”

Company representatives have expressed outrage over the deliberate whale hunt. “The tourism industry and most Icelandic citizens are against whaling,” mentioned Ásberg Jónsson, CEO of Travel Connect, a big journey providers firm based mostly in Reykjavík.

“It’s saddening and frustrating to hear that this company, Hvalur, intends to resume killing these animals in Iceland. It is very damaging to our country’s reputation. This, in turn, has repercussions for our export and tourism industries.”

Stakes are excessive as tourism in Iceland floor to a halt through the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We are an island, so obviously the barrier to travel here is a little higher than people visiting a neighboring country,” mentioned Sigríður Dögg Guðmundsdóttir, the pinnacle of Visit Iceland.

Dependence on tourism

Whale watching is a preferred vacationer exercise in Iceland.

Matthew Williams-Ellis/VWPCS/AP

While Covid-19 wreaked havoc on nations throughout the globe, many international locations aren’t as depending on tourism as Iceland. Leading as much as the pandemic, tourism was the nation’s largest export.

According to knowledge from the Iceland Chamber of Commerce, the sector’s progress peaked in 2017 when tourism exports accounted for 42% of the nation’s whole exports.

In the wake of the pandemic, GDP progress took a success final yr. Activities associated to journey bookings, air transport, lodging and eating places decreased by 50-75% from 2019. This led to a contraction in the tourism sector by 3.9% of GDP in 2020.

Hvalur final despatched its vessels to hunt in the summer time of 2018, and a complete of 146 whales had been caught through the season. Depending on the sunshine, the whaling season usually begins in June and lasts till September. It’s estimated that about 150 folks work on the whaling boats in the whaling station in west Iceland and in the corporate’s processing amenities exterior of Reykjavík.

The tails of two 35-tonne Fin whales killed by hunters in June 2009.

The tails of two 35-tonne Fin whales killed by hunters in June 2009.

Halldor Kolbeins/AFP/Getty Images

Some argue that whaling is a part of Icelandic tradition and will resume.

“Whaling has a long tradition here in Iceland, and I think reasonable and controlled hunting should be allowed,” an informal employee on the whaling station, who didn’t wish to be recognized as a result of it might have an effect on his employment, advised CNN Travel. “It is only around 125-150 fin whales hunted each year in the seven seasons since Iceland started hunting whales again in 2006. That year, I think only eight whales were hunted.”

Negative emails

Tourism workers say whaling damages Iceland's reputation.

Tourism staff say whaling damages Iceland’s status.

Mayall/ullstein bild/Getty Images

It’s puzzling to many who Hvalur, which is run by CEO Kristján Loftsson, continues whale hunting in mild of the environmental considerations and its poor financials.

“It is difficult for us to understand why, as not only is whale hunting a harmful practice, it’s also no longer a financially viable one,” mentioned Travel Connect’s Ásberg.

Hvalur’s Loftsson declined to remark.

Iceland’s whaling actions account for roughly 3% of all whales hunted worldwide, in keeping with a 2019 report from Iceland’s Ministry of Industries and Innovation. In 2017, the entire income of whale watching corporations amounted to three.2 billion Icelandic króna ($26.5 million). Meanwhile, Hvalur’s income from whaling actions in 2017 amounted to 1.7 billion króna ($14.1 million)

However, whale watching excursions convey extra income as it is a fashionable exercise for vacationers year-round.

Many are fed up with the impression of 1 firm, particularly as tourism corporations are anticipating this summer time to return to a “pre-Covid” variety of vacationers, and a controversial problem like whale hunting is disappointing.

“Overall, our travel brands haven’t experienced a lot of cancellations because of this, but every now and then, we receive negative emails about the subject,” mentioned Ásberg. “We always explain that as a company, we do not support whale hunting whatsoever. Everyone should be able to see these incredible creatures thriving in their natural habitat.”

A final hurrah?

Tourism to Iceland was hit by Covid.

Tourism to Iceland was hit by Covid.

Ryan Pyle/Getty Images

The 2022 season might be Hvalur’s final as the present license to hunt whales will expire in 2023, and Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture will then determine whether or not or to not cease issuing whaling licenses from 2024 onwards. It seems that there is little demand for whaling merchandise and that the business does little or no for Iceland’s economic system.

“Any whaling in Icelandic waters is science-based and in accordance with international law,” mentioned Sigríður. “Hvalur has the required license to undertake whaling activity this summer. It is up to the management and owners to determine whether they will use it and for the Icelandic people and government to determine if any future licenses will be granted. In the last three years, only one Minke whale and no large whales have been caught.”

All Covid-19 restrictions had been lifted in March 2022, and tourism executives have excessive hopes for an excellent summer time.

“Tourism in Iceland is rebounding well,” mentioned Sigríður. “In our projections, we expect near-to-normal numbers this summer and a full return the next year.”

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