Iceland is Perfect for Families

Iceland is Perfect for Families

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The FTA spoke with Ágústa Björg Þorsteinsdóttir, head of marketing at Iceland Travel, about how his company has specialized in serving families, the potential impact on children and their families from visiting a place like Iceland, and how all of us can encourage more families to travel together.

Tell us briefly about the history of your company. What travel needs have you identified and solved for families?

Snowmobiling together is an exciting option for families visiting Iceland.

Since 1937, Iceland Travel has taken great pride in our beautiful country, expertly trained staff, handpicked local guides, by developing a diverse portfolio of tours for all types of travelers. We appreciate that our long-running success is based on our respect for Iceland’s unique natural environment.

One of our original focuses has been education and student groups, so we’ve been working with the needs of children and parents for a long time. We still incorporate a bit of education and hands on learning into all tours for all ages and traveler types.

Icelanders are big family travelers themselves, especially our employees. We’ve traveled around the country and seen the places that are ideal for the needs of families. We’ve also traveled with families abroad and see what trends and services are impacting family travelers around the world.

A few years ago, after successfully working with a couple of German and Dutch tour operators on small group family trips, we realized that parents are busy people who are looking for ways to travel in an authentic way with their children. We wanted to use our local expertise, gathering proper information about family friendly hotels, activities and services, to enable families to travel to Iceland in a safe and fun way, and in the summer of 2015, we launched our first dedicated family trips.

Throughout the years we have tried a few different products and approaches, but what has proven to be the most popular, are our family self-drive packages with dedicated activity bundles to choose from, with focus on fun, children friendly experiences.

Who are the main clients purchasing your tours and what are they most interested in?

Our clients are mostly affluent families with school-age children, who are interested in the natural sights of Iceland, they love the fact that Iceland is a very safe place (according to the Global Peace Index, Iceland is the safest country in the world) and they enjoy the freedom that travelling in Iceland brings you.

Many of our clients like the freedom and flexibility of our self-drive products – we have the expertise to craft action packed itineraries, with lots of natural sights included, staying at the same place for a number of nights, but at the same time flexible, where clients can often choose their daily driving distance.

In addition to a wide variety of classic self-drive options, we also have special self-drive packages for families with younger children, where families stay in accommodations that we pick making it easy for families to be together (e.g. family rooms at hotels, apartments, hostels with private family rooms, etc.)

We’ve also seen a growing number of multi-Iceland as a hub between the US and Europe, we’ve seen a trend in family reunions in Iceland, where multi-generational travelers meet up here.

In order to ease their choice and booking experience, we’ve created a new product: group self-drives. We pre-book hotels, several cars for the family to use on the trip, breakfast and dinners at the hotel each night. During the day, the family follows their own itinerary in several cars at their own pace, using our travel route suggestions and the Iceland Travel Companion app.

Exploring Iceland is an “other worldly” experience.

At night they meet again at the hotel and enjoy time together.  This option gives families the convenience and savings of group travel, along with the freedom and flexibility of a driving holiday.

Still other families like tailor-made itineraries with a driver-guide matched to the family’s interests.

While not booked as often as self-drive packages, for families who don’t want to rent cars, we have affordable short break options that include a range of accommodations and kid-friendly day tours.

How are you currently marketing your business and what is your key messaging?

We have forged a strong business relationship with tour operators and travel agents around the world, throughout the years. We are members of many prestigious associations, such as USTOA, Signature Travel Network, Flight Centre and Travel Leaders.  We are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube and Linkedin and use both on-line (social media, google ads, newsletters) and off-line ads in magazines and newspapers.  Our main presence comes through travel shows, workshops and travel conferences where we meet existing clients and generate new leads.

Our key message is expertise, passion, flexibility and professionalism.

How do you see your company assisting families in taking more vacations to Iceland on a budget?

It is true that Iceland is higher priced compared to some destinations in North America and the Caribbean. However, the quality in Iceland is high and people get good value for their experiences.   It is very possible to save money by traveling like a local family would in Iceland, and we encourage families to consider these options, which we offer in our tours.

For example, we offer budget accommodation options on self-drive holidays, including guesthouses, farm accommodations, summer boarding schools or quality hostels, etc., many with shared bathroom facilities.  In Iceland the standard of cleanliness and quality is high, so even simpler accommodations are comfortable and often more cozy, homelike and authentic Icelandic. The ratio of rooms to bathrooms is often very low, too. Our city breaks can also be adapted to fit budgets- staying in quality hostels or guesthouses.

Also, we include breakfast in our packages, which is usually an all-you-can-eat buffet, so lunch can be small and travel budgets can be saved for other meals. There are plenty of moderate priced dining options in places like Reykjavik and Akureyri, and we have a list of places we recommend for people looking for reasonable dining options.  Restaurants often have daily specials, especially for lunch, that are fixed price and can be cheaper.

Additionally, guests can stay in family apartments (which we can arrange in our packages), where you can cook your own meals.

We encourage people to eat local and be open to trying the delicious local products, rather than international chain restaurants or convenience marts selling fast food.  Kids often really like Icelandic food once they try it, such as dairy products, hot dogs, the fresh fish, Icelandic sandwiches, local vegetables.  For example, hearty soup and bread is a typical lunch or dinner meal, which is filling, tasty and affordable.

Our best entertainment here is low priced or even free: geothermal swimming pools are great for families and a better option than the Blue Lagoon. Museums have children discounts and often special exhibits in English for kids. There are also petting zoos, farm visits, bike tours, etc.  Plus there are great free parks, walking trails around our cities and towns. For families open to hearing music in other languages, cities like Reykjavík often have free concerts or events.

Finally, families can travel in the off season (Oct – April), taking advantage of our proximity to North America, lower flights and flight schedules for easy short trips during the school year, or a long weekend self-drive or city break. Families may wind up spending less time flying to Iceland than they would across the USA.

The FTA has recently launched a campaign to get parents to use more of their paid time off to take vacations. How do you see Iceland Travel fitting in to this initiative?

Just like Americans, Icelandic families face the challenges of organizing time in a busy world to be together. Icelanders generally work longer hours compared to other Nordic countries. However, families are a huge priority in Iceland, and families commit to taking vacation and spending holidays together.

Family vacations (and paid vacation time in general) are a legal and civic right in Iceland.  Icelanders have worked hard to ensure their government supports this. Workplaces also commit to providing opportunities for their employees and their families to spend leisure time together.

We believe our company can:

  • Encourage awareness and opportunities for short family breaks using Iceland as the ideal destination
  • Show families alternative ideas about family life (such as seeing daily life in Iceland and the way children are valued)
  • Sharing ideas about things Icelandic companies do to support family leisure time and travel as case studies for the American travel industry to leverage in the U.S.
  • Developing a short break concept where American/Canadian family with school age children can meet an Icelandic family for coffee and cakes or ice cream
  • Demonstrate to employers that travel with family is an investment in your employees and provides a real “return on investment”

 What are the greatest impacts your tours appear to have on visiting families?

Showing families how a small population of people can be an international nation, and how individuals can – and need – to take part to make a difference. Showing how people need to understand and respect the power of nature to benefit from nature.

Expose families to a different way of doing things and ideas that can be taken home. Examples include alternative energy sources and ways of helping the environment, the importance of your extended family, and the importance of keeping alive the stories of the past.

And perhaps the most important for families – Iceland’s pace of life, vast landscape yet small size encourages families to slow down and enjoy the moment rather than try to see everything and do everything. Family travel is really about the time spent together. People end up really slowing down and being in the moment, since there are so many amazing impressions you can enjoy in just a single place. There are not many destinations that allow you do that, and it really gives families the space to be a family together.

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