PHOTO: Icelandair's new 'Stopover Buddy' program pairs visitors with an airline employee for a personal tour. Pictured above is one of Icelandair's pilots, but a few lucky passengers will get to ski with CEO Birkir Holm Gudnason. (Photo courtesy of Icelandair)
Icelandair has made a name for itself recently by offering cheap flights from the U.S. to Europe via its Iceland hub, Keflavík International Airport. Its main competitor, Icelandic low-cost carrier WOW Air is now doing the same, making headlines with $99 international fares.
Icelandair is now testing a small change to this business model. Rather than using its home country as a way-point for trips between the U.S. and Europe, the airline is making it easy for passengers to lay over for a few days and see the sights. Iceland does have some interesting attractions: hot springs, volcanoes, the Aurora Borealis, Game of Thrones filming locations, etc.. However, its location, hugging the Arctic Circle, does not endear it to a huge number of travelers, even those who make a pit stop at Keflavík.
And what's more, you might be able to take in these sights in the company of a pretty knowledgable tour guide: the airline's CEO.
A unique program
Icelandair has a program called Stopover Buddy that will run from now through April 30. Any passenger who wants to explore Iceland for a few days while en route to Europe can request a “Stopover Buddy.”
According to the airline, Stopover Buddies are Icelandair employees who can act as informal tour guides during an extended layover. Passengers who want to try this program will be matched by the airline with a “buddy” who has similar interests or who is familiar with the attractions and activities that they want to experience during their stay. Stopover themes promoted on the Icelandair web site include nature, spas and health, adventure sports, foodie tours, and lifestyle and culture experiences.
Skiing with Icelandair’s CEO
Icelandair CEO Birkir Holm Gudnason explains the idea: “We’re thrilled to offer this unique service that allows our guests to experience Iceland as an Icelander. We have worked closely with our colleagues to discover their interests, hobbies and unrivaled local knowledge, which will make for some truly unique and personalized experiences when paired as a Buddy. The Stopover Buddy service will give our passengers an authentic taste of Iceland and we look forward to hearing about their journeys.”
Gudnason is actually participating in the Stopover Buddy program. Passengers who are paired with the CEO will get a tour of his hometown and then enjoy a day of skiing in Iceland’s backcountry.
The price is right
The most interesting part of this program is not that you can hit the slopes with an airline executive; it is that the service does not cost anything. Obviously, tourists who want to explore Iceland will have to pay expenses and book a hotel, but the tour-guide services are completely free for any Icelandair passenger who is laying over during a transcontinental journey.
There is a bit of quirkiness to the program. On the Stopover Buddy web page, each theme has 30 second videos of current Stopover Buddies explaining what kind of itinerary they would provide. However, there is also a lot of marketing savvy behind the idea. Yes, the program is free, but it does help Icelandair to build its brand beyond just being “a cheap way to fly to Europe.”
WOW Air is intent on becoming the “cheap way,” and Icelandair seems to be looking for other adjectives. Stopover Buddies will make the flag carrier seem like “the fun way,” “the friendly way” or even “the quirky way" to travel between the U.S. and Europe. So if you look at Stopover Buddies as a branding and promotional campaign, it might actually be worth whatever funds the airline is investing in it.
Icelandair offers year-round services to Iceland from Boston, Chicago-ORD, Denver, Edmonton, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York-JFK, Newark, Seattle, Toronto, and Washington, D.C and seasonal service from Anchorage, Halifax, Montreal, Orlando, Portland (Oregon) and Vancouver. Stopovers can last for seven nights without affecting ticket prices.