Last updated: 02:30 PM ET, Thu October 20 2016

What Is Driving Iceland’s Extraordinary Growth?

Destination & Tourism Janeen Christoff October 20, 2016

What Is Driving Iceland’s Extraordinary Growth?

PHOTO: It's easy to see why the Instagram generation loves Iceland. (Photo courtesy Thinkstock)

Iceland has become a rite of passage for travelers these days, reports Vox in a recent article on the stunning growth the country is experiencing. 

“Among young professionals, the sparsely populated European country has suddenly become some sort of exotic pilgrimage: Facebook and Instagram feeds are filled with oversaturated images of fjords, colorful villages, and ice melt waterfalls. The country has been touted as an up-and-coming, must-see destination by a multitude of outlets, from Lonely Planet to National Geographic,” says Zachary Crockett. 

In 1996, just 200,000 visitors came to Iceland. This year, so far, Iceland has welcomed 1.6 million foreign visitors. That is way more than the population of the whole country — in fact, U.S. visitors alone outnumber the number of Icelandic people. According to Vox, 325,000 Americans have visited Iceland in 2016, the country’s population is 332,000. 

What is making Iceland so popular? Vox points to a variety of reasons. 

One of them: A volcanic eruption in 2010 brought a lot of attention to the country. While the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull grounded flights across Europe, Iceland’s response may have driven a tourism boom. 

‘At the time, Iceland’s tourism industry was flailing, and the country’s economy was still in a post-2008 recession slump. But Iceland’s tourist board had a genius idea: For once, the country was in the spotlight — why not seize the occasion as an opportunity to attract tourists?” says Crockett. 

The launch of a budget airline also helped put the country on the map for many travelers who previously thought the country was unattainable. 

“In 2012, Iceland-based WOW Air began offering extremely cheap flights from Europe to Iceland, and in 2015 it expanded to North America. As of writing this article, the average flight to Iceland is now 26 percent cheaper than the median airfare to other major tourist destinations. January flights to Iceland can be booked for as low as $380,” Crockett point out. 

The country is also seen as safe in comparison to Europe’s ongoing turmoil. 

“What we’re seeing in the industry is that fear [due to terror attacks] has deflected travelers from other European countries,” Bjorg Gudjons, an agent at Nordika Travel tells Vox. “Iceland is one of safest countries in the world.”

Another reason — Iceland is the perfect place for the Instagram generation. 

READ MORE: Visiting Iceland Is Better With a Stopover Buddy  

“It’s not too far (from Boston or New York, it’s a quick flight) — but when you’re there, it feels like you’re on a different planet,” Kayak’s David Solomito tells Vox. “People see pictures on social media and think it’s on Mars. It feels out of this world. It has that Instagram factor.”

Want to know more about why Iceland is one of the most popular tourism destinations right now? Read on here