Foreigners are cool: Iceland's lesson for Britain as isolated island is voted the friendliest place on earth

The country that topped a hospitality poll could teach the UK (placed 55th) a thing or two, Jenna Gottlieb discovers

Reykjavik

It has had its fair share of international criticism. But the island once famed for financial ruin is fighting back with love: Iceland is, officially, the most welcoming nation on earth.

Still reeling from its economic collapse five years ago, Iceland has been voted the most welcoming to foreigners of 140 countries polled by the World Economic Forum. The public attitudes survey found Icelandic society most open and welcoming to foreigners, followed by New Zealand and Morocco. Britain, it should be said, came 55th.

So what makes Icelanders so cheerful? “It has to do with our history,” says Gudrun Magnusdottir, a student at Haskoli Islands University in Reykjavik. “In the old days farmers were required to greet guests with the best they had. This has since been etched in our culture, and today, the goal is to get tourists to come back again.”

After the country’s economic collapse in 2008, Iceland’s outlook has  improved. Indeed, while the eurozone is expected to shrink by 0.3 per cent this year, Iceland’s economy will grow by 2.7 per cent. Unemployment too has fallen to 4.5%, half the amount it was at its peak, and the budget deficit that reached 13.5% of GDP in 2009 fell to 2.3% last year. Meanwhile, as Europe feels the pain, Iceland’s loans have been paid back ahead of schedule.

For one of the world’s most marooned countries, sitting squarely on the mid-Atlantic rift, immigration is hardly the issue it is in others parts of Europe.

Given that many Icelanders can trace their lineage back to the first settlers, most are delighted to encounter  diversity, says Bjorn Ludviksson, who operates a lighthouse in the western town of Akranes. “It is great people choose to come to our little country. When I talk to tourists, I like to point things out to them, make sure they enjoy their time and find out where they live, where they’re from and why they decided to come here.”

Tourism is on an upward cycle. According to officials, international visitors to Iceland have doubled since 2000. Roughly 300,000 people visited Iceland in 2000, and nearly 600,000 tourists came in 2012. Should the trend continue, tourist officials expect a million visitors to Iceland by 2020.

So what can frosty Britons learn from it all? Well, to charmingly flaunt your assets, one Scot living there suggests. “Iceland is proud of its heritage and enjoys showing that off to tourists,” David Mitchell says. “Brits are known for being extremely friendly to visitors. But as a region, it is absolutely awful at selling itself, or courting people.

“We rely on tradition, Hollywood and Americans pursuing their lineage to fill our coffers.”

Iceland, he says, is the opposite. Culinary offerings including boiled puffin and putrid shark; unrivalled nature from lava fields, hot springs, geysers and glaciers. The country sells itself on a sensory assault and nothing delights its people more than sharing that with the rest of the world.

“We are very proud of our nature and how beautiful Iceland is,” said Finnur Andresson, a Reykjavik photographer. “We love that visitors get to see that. There are so many things unique to Iceland.”

Marketing trickery also helps. While the tiny North Atlantic nation is isolated, tourism officials try to make Iceland seem closer than it is.

The country’s national aircraft carrier has a policy of allowing tourists flying between the US and EU countries to stop over for a while in Iceland at no extra cost. Feel welcome enough and, the hope is, you’ll stay.

Best and worst: Friendly countries

Five most friendly

1. Iceland

2. New Zealand

3. Morocco

4. Macedonia, FYR

5. Austria

Five most unfriendly

1. Bolivia

2. Venezuela

3. Russian Federation

4. Kuwait

5. Latvia

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
News
Ireland will not find out whether gay couples have won the right to marry until Saturday afternoon
news
News
Kim Jong-un's brother Kim Jong-chol
news
News
Manchester city skyline as seen from Oldham above the streets of terraced houses in North West England on 7 April 2015.
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?