The number of foreign tourists visiting the Westman Islands has increased threefold, according to culture and tourism officer Kristín Jóhannsdóttir.
The Westman Islands. Copyright: Icelandic Photo Agency.
“We were getting 15-20,000 tourists a year but the number has tripled with the arrival of the new harbor,” Kristín told mbl.is, adding that hotels, guesthouses, and tour operators have all experienced a large increase in bookings. Kristín stressed that the numbers are only an estimate as ferry passengers are not officially counted.
Since the construction of the new Landeyjahöfn harbor in 2010, which has brought easier access to the Westman Islands, the town of Vestmannaeyjar, which lies on Heimaey, has been full of life during the summer months. Heimaey is the only inhabited island in the archipelago, and was the site of a major volcanic eruption in 1973.
Kristín says the development has had a positive impact on the community.
Authorities have been working to improve the facilities on the island and there are even dreams of building a large hotel, according to Kristín. “The authorities put a lot of effort into completing a new recreation area by the swimming pool before the new harbor was made a reality. The camping grounds were also done up so that we could receive more people.”
However, Kristín says that she is not happy with the reduction in ferry services during the winter months. “It’s not acceptable that this wonderful tourist destination is not accessible through the winter. We are a short distance from Reykjavík where there are tourists year-round. This requires that the ship and harbor continue to operate throughout the year,” she concluded.
Before the construction of the new harbor at Landeyjahöfn in 2010, the Westman Islands ferry used to sail from Thorlákshöfn, which is just 50 kilometers from Reykjavík. Landeyjahöfn lies 100 kilometers from Reykjavík but is closer to the Westman Islands. With the shorter sailing route, the journey from the capital to the Westman Islands dropped from four hours to two and a half hours.
Click here to read about plans to build a volcano museum on Heimaey, the site of the 1973 Eldfell eruption in the Westman Islands.