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Several Hillsdale stu­dents visited Iceland in recent years. Kayla Mykeloff | Courtesy

Iceland had 2.3 million vis­itors in 2018, according to the Rejk­javik Grapevine, a prevalent Ice­landic tourist mag­azine. With about 338,000 people living in Iceland, the number of tourists makes up nearly seven times the country’s pop­u­lation. But after Iceland’s ultra low-cost airline, WOW air, went bankrupt at the end of March, many predict Ice­landic tourism will be on the decline.

Several Hillsdale stu­dents, including a Wash­ington-Hillsdale Internship Program group from last year, have taken advantage of the cheap airline tickets over the years. Now some say they will have to cancel their travel plans.

Not only did WOW air provide cheap flights to Iceland, but it also offered cheap flights from the U.S. to Europe by stopping in Iceland. Senior Emma McCormick used WOW air on her first trip to Iceland and was planning on using it again for her trip to Europe this summer.

“That’s how I flew to Iceland and had bought a ticket with them round trip Detroit to Paris for May 27 through June 14,” she said. “I had a minor moment of panic and dis­belief at how a company can do that. Thank­fully my credit card company reim­bursed me for the flight.”

WOW air had the advantage of not only being cheap, but also making stops less com­pli­cated for flights to Europe. Cheap flights to Europe can still be found, but they can be more com­pli­cated even if they do save money, as McCormick can attest to.  

“I bought another ticket from Windsor, Ontario to Paris and back to Toronto. From there I’ll fly United to Bozeman, Montana,” McCormick said. “The end des­ti­nation of that trip is Budapest and Croatia. Thank­fully the flights didn’t interrupt our plans too much. That routing including the Bozeman leg actually worked out to be about $100 less!”

Iceland has many natural wonders. The 39,769 square miles of land contain hot springs, black sand beaches, glaciers, moun­tains, water­falls, and vol­canoes. According to some travel blogs, Iceland is one of the most nat­u­rally beau­tiful places on earth.

In 2010, volcano Eyjaf­jal­la­jökull erupted and made inter­na­tional head­lines since the air­space over Iceland was closed thanks to the ash in the air. Because of the eruption, Iceland’s economy fell on hard times, and an online cam­paign began in which people could post their pos­itive stories about vis­iting Iceland. The cam­paign spread across social media, and soon Iceland became a trend. The next summer after the cam­paign started was Iceland’s busiest tourist season yet.

With the new draw in tourism, Iceland’s gov­ernment began an intense, three-year mar­keting cam­paign to grow the island’s rep­u­tation as an untouched, largely unin­habited envi­ronment for tourists to roam.

On top of all the travel pub­licity, Iceland has also become a popular filming spot. Movies such as “Batman Begins,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and “Thor: the Dark World” all filmed parts in Iceland. And most pop­u­larly, the HBO series “Game of Thrones” has done much of its filming in Iceland. There are now tours in Iceland totally ded­i­cated to seeing the “Game of Thrones” sights.

Since WOW air was founded in 2011 as a low-cost carrier, it had been trying to compete with bigger, estab­lished air­lines that reg­u­larly offer nonstop flights to Europe. They tried to follow the model of short-haul oper­a­tions like Southwest Air­lines and Ryanair Holdings, but trying to do it with long-haul oper­a­tions and it was not sus­tainable. Now, dirt cheap flights to Iceland and Europe might be harder to find.

McCormick and senior Kayla Mykeloff went to Iceland at the end of the 2018 spring semester, before WOW air’s bank­ruptcy, and said they loved it.

Travel costs were cheap. Alto­gether, Mykeloff esti­mated that she spent less than $800 on the trip.

They traveled throughout the southern part of the country, famous for its numerous water­falls and glaciers. They got to hike, see geysers and waterfall, glaciers, and see the famous black sand beach known as “Diamond Beach” for its large chunks of glaciers ice that have washed up and look like giant dia­monds on the sand.  

McCormick espe­cially loved Diamond Beach and said the ice, in all its shapes, sizes, and colors, was stunning.

“But it is hard to pick a favorite, because most places we went and things we saw were truly unique and beau­tiful,” McCormick said.

Mykeloff said Iceland was like nothing she had ever seen and there was no place she could even compare it to.

“That country is so diverse in terms of land. So every day we saw some­thing new and dif­ferent. Its like you are on a com­pletely dif­ferent planet,” she said.

McCormick said one of the most sur­prising things about Iceland was the con­stant and drastic diversity in the scenery.

“You’d drive for less than 30 minutes and the view out the window com­pletely changed. We’d be in farmland, then ocean coast, then Mars, then moun­tains, then a whiteout blizzard,” McCormick said.

It is this wild and dis­tinctive scenery that makes Iceland such an attraction. But, McCormick did point out that it is obvious that Iceland is extremely popular for tourists right now and it shows on the land­scape, which sad­dened her a little.

“The beauty of Iceland is in its fragile ecosystems. With so much foot traffic the land­scape never gets a break. People are always walking on hiking paths, or not on paths, even in the off seasons with the land should be recu­per­ating,” McCormick said. “It was a weird complex — feeling bad for con­tributing to the traffic, but also self­ishly glad I went when I did and didn’t wait.”

Both Mykeloff and McCormick would love to go back and see more of the island and other spots they didn’t have time to visit.

“I def­i­nitely would like to go back and have more money to spend to do things like glacier hiking, ice cave spelunking, and go to the Blue Lagoon,” Mykeloff said. “I want to go back so badly.”