Volcanic activity poses challenges for Iceland’s popular Blue Lagoon: Travel Weekly

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For many travelers, what the Eiffel Tower is to France or the pyramids are to Egypt, the Blue Lagoon is to Iceland.

But with the iconic spa attraction facing periodic disruption due to volcanic activity on the island’s Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland’s tourism ecosystem faces an unpredictable future. 

On the heels of three volcanic eruptions this winter, the Blue Lagoon’s most recent temporary shutdown occurred on March 16, when a fourth eruption prompted a full evacuation of the spa and its hospitality facilities. In addition to its geothermal spa offerings, the Blue Lagoon is home to the Blue Cafe, Moss and Lava restaurants; Retreat and Silica hotels; Retreat Spa and Spa Restaurant; and a retail store.

“The Blue Lagoon is the biggest trademark in Icelandic tourism, so it’s a little problematic, obviously, from a marketing point of view,” said Snorri Valsson, head of public relations for the Icelandic Tourist Board. “It’s sort of the first thing that pops up in people’s minds when they think of Iceland.” 

With considerable media coverage surrounding the seismic activity and Blue Lagoon closures, Valsson said the Icelandic Tourist Board’s primary focus has been on providing accurate information regarding the scope of the latest eruption.

“One of the main roles we have is to get across the basic message that this is a localized event and that the emergency situation is only in a small area,” he said. “Because on the map, it appears relatively close to the airport and Reykjavik, and people might think that there is impact there, when in fact, there is none.” 

The Icelandic Tourist Board is also encouraging visitors to consider alternative geothermal attractions, with Valsson citing examples like the Sky Lagoon, Krauma, Hvammsvik Hot Springs and, farther north, the Myvatn Nature Baths.

“One of our options is to put more emphasis on these facilities when the Blue Lagoon is a little bit more of a shaky option, and I have heard voices from within the tourism sector [suggesting that] some sort of a campaign is needed,” Valsson said.

The volcanic eruptions began ramping up just as the Icelandic Tourist Board had released data predicting a record year for Icelandic tourism, with 2024 forecast to bring more than 2.4 million visitors, up from approximately 2.2 million visitors last year. With impact from the Blue Lagoon’s closures yet to be factored into that forecast, Valsson said there could be some “recalculation” needed.

That adjustment, however, would also need to take a recent spike in volcano-related tourism into consideration. 

“A volcanic eruption works both ways,” Valsson said. “It also attracts some travelers — the more adventurous ones.” 

As of right now, however, the Blue Lagoon has yet to report a substantial drop in bookings.

“We’ve been very fortunate that Blue Lagoon Iceland is still considered a must-visit for those planning a trip to Iceland,” said Helga Arnadottir, chief operator of sales, operations and services at the Blue Lagoon. “Traditionally, this period is considered our shoulder season, but we’re pleased to see that our bookings for the coming weeks and months continue to increase and look very promising.”

Part of that resilience can likely be attributed to the attraction’s high level of preparedness. According to Arnadottir, evacuation instructions are clearly communicated to all guests through both pre-arrival emails and during check-in as well as made available via the Blue Lagoon website.

For hotel guests, alternative accommodation plans are also discussed at check-in, and during any evacuations day guests and hotel guests alike are accompanied by Blue Lagoon staff during transport to either Reykjavik or their alternative accommodations.

Guests affected by closures receive full refunds or have the option to move their visit to a later date, Arnadottir said.

“It is important to note that all of our reopenings are always a collaborative effort,” she added. “We have only reopened when it was deemed safe by the local authorities.”

Advisor’s Iceland bookings hold steady

With volcanic activity predicted to remain elevated for the foreseeable future, it’s likely that the Blue Lagoon will face further closures.

But despite this element of unpredictability, Neal Gold, owner of the luxury travel agency Stay Gold, reports that clients are keeping Iceland trips on the books. 

“I don’t have clients saying, ‘Oh, we can’t stay or go to the Blue Lagoon now, so let’s cancel our trip,'” Gold said. “It’s more about just readjusting the plan.”

For clients who have had their trips coincide with a Blue Lagoon closure, Gold has substituted experiences like an ATV tour or a few extra nights in Reykjavik at a luxury hotel, such as the Reykjavik Edition.

Gold acknowledged, however, that travelers still mulling a trip to Iceland are likely to have more concerns and questions about the volcanic activity and related closures. 

“That said, I don’t think a client request to go to Iceland right now would be deflected based on their ability to go or not go to the Blue Lagoon,” he said. “And I think that they can still get an amazing trip to Iceland, so I wouldn’t dissuade them.”

Gold added that Iceland’s reputation for prioritizing visitor safety means that he’s still comfortable booking the Blue Lagoon for his clients, even with the potential for a sudden closure. 

“There’s nowhere else in the world right now, except the Blue Lagoon, where I would still send someone with a caveat that says, ‘Hey, by the way, there’s a chance you might be evacuated in the middle of the night,'” Gold said. “I’m still potentially putting it in someone’s plans. And that’s a testament to what the Blue Lagoon means to a lot of travelers.”

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