Last May, Animal Tourism Visit Finland visited Lýtingsstaðirin Horse Farm. The farm is situated in Skagafjörður, in the North of Iceland. Evelyn and Sveinn, the owners of the farm, are strongly committed to animal welfare and the preservation of cultural heritage. Indeed, they do not only have hundred of horses, but also traditional Icelandic turf houses and stables. Evelyn and Sveinn see their horses as a big part of their life. Their philosophy is based on breeding horses that are reliable, well trained and lovingly cared for.
The turf stables give an inside view of how horses were kept in the past. Visitors can also see a display of old tools, tack and other items connected with horses and farming. As Evelyn pointed out, they want their guest to learn about Iceland, Icelandic people and their horses. Evelyn want to focus on small groups and the idea to offer services with a personal touch.
In the video below, Evelyn Ýr Kuhne from Lýtingsstaðirin Horse Farm tells more about their farm, tourism services and animal welfare practices.
Last May, Animal Tourism Visit Finland visited Salka Whale Watching in Húsavík, Iceland. Salka Whale Watching is a family owned tourism company. It takes visitors to see whales, puffins and other wildlife on traditional oak boats. The company is strongly committed to sustainability and responsible tourism practices. Indeed, Salka is one of the 12 IceWhale operators operating in Iceland. As an IceWhale operator Salka follows IceWhale code of conduct for responsible whale watching. The company has also been a key supporter of the “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us”campaign which has aimed to take whale meat off the menu for tourists. As a joint project between IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) andIceWhale(the Association of Icelandic Whale Watchers), the campaign “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us”, has been around since summer 2010. As a result of this campaign, no restaurant in Húsavík serves whale meat nowadays.
Húsavík is well-known for being one of the best places in the world to see whales. Indeed, Skjálfandi Bay, where Húsavík is located, is a plankton- rich area. No wonder why whale watching in Iceland started in this small town. Due to this long history and high percentage of whales, Húsavík deserves to be called “the whale capital of Iceland”. During the visit, Animal Tourism Finland was able to learn more about Salka’s operations and their responsible approach to whale watching. The visit was crowned with a whale watching tour on Salka’s oat boat “Fanney”. The tour was a great opportunity for experiencing Salka’s whale watching practices in action.
In the video below, Loes de Heus from Salka tells more about their services, customers and responsible whale watching practices.
Insights into quality certifications including animal welfare criteria
One of the objectives of the project “Animals and Responsible Tourism” was to examine quality standards including animal welfare criteria. To that end, we conducted an evaluation of a wide range of both national and international certifications and quality labels. Furthermore, we interviewed five certified animal-based tourism service providers. The service providers interviewed operate in Canada, Iceland, Finland and Sweden. They offer services such as whale watching, dog sledding and horseback riding. The study helps understand how animal welfare is considered in existing tourism quality standards. It also offers insights into the benefits of these standards for the operation of animal-based tourism companies. The results of the study can be found in the report “Quality monitoring practices in animal-based tourism” (see below).
In the video below, Tarja Salmela-Leppänen offers an overview of the content and main highlights of the report. The video is meant to serve as an introduction to the report.
This post includes a short interview with Sveinn H. Guðmundsson – Elding’s Quality and Environmental Manager. I met Sveinn during my visit to Iceland in early May. We talked about responsible whale watching and the role of environmental certifications and labels in promoting it. In fact, Elding – adventures at sea follows EarthCheck and Blue Flag’s standards along with IceWhale’s guidelines. The company has also been strongly committed to the “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us” campaign which has aimed to take whale meat off the menu for tourists. As a joint project between IFAW(International Fund for Animal Welfare) and IceWhale (the Association of Icelandic Whale Watchers), the campaign “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us,” has been around since summer 2010.
Supporting research and responsible tourism practices
In addition to these standards and guidelines, Elding takes part in international cooperation on the future of whale watching. The company has also strong cooperation with marine biologists and wildlife researchers . Sveinn also mentioned that Elding is the first and only environmentally certified whale watching company in Iceland. According to Sveinn environmental certifications are an useful tool for managing Elding’s operations in a responsible way.
Elding also takes seriously its educational role in tourism. During the tours, Elding’s guides not only explain about the whales, but also how toutists themselves can support responsible tourism practices. For example, they make tourists aware that whale meat is not part of Icelandic traditional gastronomy. The campaign “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us,” has actually contributed to the decrease of whale meat among tourists.
During my visit to Iceland, I joined once more a whale watching tour with Elding. It was my second time. We were able to see minke whales, dolphins, puffins and other birds. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a shot of the minke whale. They were to fasts for me. Nevertheless, the dolphins stayed with us for a while.
Sveinn H. Guðmundsson will be one of the speakers in this year’sLapland Tourism Parliament. The event will take place in Rovaniemi at the University of Lapland on September 21-22, 2017. So you may have the possibility to meet Sveinn in person and share some thoughts with him.
Exploring Iceland is a tour operator selling Iceland as a destination. Among their services, the company offers horseback riding tours with Icelandic horses. During my visit to Iceland in early May, I had the opportunity to visit this Icelandic tourism company. I met Steinunn Guðbjörnsdóttir (Owner and Managing Director) and Meike Witt (Sales and Product Manager). We sat down over a cup of coffee and talk about their company, Icelandic horses and animal welfare in tourism. Indeed, animal welfare is one of the guiding principles of the company.
Exploring Iceland has its own animal welfare policy which provides guidance for the responsible and respectful treatment of Icelandic horses. Both Exploring Iceland’s employees and business partners are expected to follow the animal welfare policy. Steinunn and Meike recognize the relevance of animal welfare in the tourism industry. Moreover, they believe that animal welfare is an essential aspect of responsible tourism.
By visiting Exploring Iceland, I was able to gain further insights into animal welfare in a Nordic context. I was also able to confirm that there is a need for certifications that focus on the welfare of horses used in tourism.
In the video below, Meike talks about their horse riding tours and some of the animal welfare practices of Exploring Iceland. If you want to know more about my visit to Iceland, please check our post from May 10, 2017.
I just came back from an inspiring trip to Iceland. I was captivated by the hospitality, nature and animals of this Nordic country. The main objective of my trip was to visit the University of Iceland in Reykjavik and Holar University College in North Iceland.The Multidimensional Tourism Institute (MTI) is strengthening research and educational collaboration with its Icelandic partners. The trip was also an opportunity to visit and interview Icelandic tourism companies, which services are based on encounters with animals. From this perspective, the trip helped collect more data and information for the Work Package 1 of the project “Animals and Responsible Tourism”. The trip was funded by Erasmus+ and took place from May 1st till May 10th.
Animal-based tourism in Iceland
Horses and Whales
Animals are a very important element of tourism in Iceland. Icelandic horses are not only part of the brand of Iceland, but also a key constituent of Icelandic identity. Indeed, Icelandic people are very proud of their horses. Whale watching is also nowadays associated with a holiday in Iceland. According to Ice Whale, 20 per cent of tourists visiting Iceland take part in whale watching tours. The number of whale watching companies has considerably increased during the last decade. During this visit to Iceland, I was lucky to see two humpbacks whales and one minke whale from the shores of Hvammstangi in North Iceland. So with good luck, it is possible to see them from mainland too.
With more than 300 bird species, Iceland is a paradise for birdwatchers. Several tourism companies focus on this particular customer group. There is a bird that has also caught the attention of most travelers, the puffin. This Nordic bird, which live on the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean and come to land just for breeding, has become a sensation among tourists. Many whale watching companies offer puffing watching tours. In some cases, puffing watching is combined with whale watching. Puffins are not only clever birds, but also very cute. This is the reason why the puffin has become one of Iceland’s most popular souvenirs.
Hunting and fishing
Hunting and fishing are also part of the tourism offering of Iceland. Many tourists come to fish in rivers or on the sea. Reindeer hunting is also offered by some tourism wildlife companies. Icelandic reindeer are wild animals and live in the East part of the country.
In Hvammstagi, there is also a tourism company that offers seal watching tours. A couple of companies in Iceland offer husky safaris. This is a new animal-based tourism service that could grow in the future. So Iceland offers a wide variety of animal-based activities and they are growing fast.
Meeting Icelandic tourism companies
During this trip, I had the opportunity to talk about animal welfare with local tourism companies. I met Sveinn H. Guðmundsson, who is the Quality and Environmental Manager of Elding – a whale watching company. Elding is highly committed to animal welfare and environmental issues. I also met Steinunn Guðbjörnsdóttir and Meike Witt from Exploring Iceland. Steinunn is Managing Director of the company and Meike works as Sales and Product Manager. Exploring Iceland is an Icelandic tour operator selling outdoor activities and horseback riding tours. Animal welfare is one the key guiding principles of the company.
In Husavik, I met Erna Björnsdóttir and Loes de Heus from Salka Whale Watching. Erna is Marketing Director and Loes works as tour guide. Salka is a small whale watching company operating one (and soon two) fishing oak boats in Húsavík. This small Icelandic fishing town is known as the capital of whale watching. Salka follows the Ice Whale code of conduct for responsible whale watching in Iceland and it has been active in the campaign “meet us, don’t eat us” in Húsavík. Because of the campaign, no whale meat can be found in the menus of Húsavík’s restaurants.
In Skagafjördur, I met Evelyn Ýr Kuhne, Eydís Magnusdóttir and Sigrún Ingriddóttir. These three female rural tourism entrepreneurs are jointly promoting their services under the name “The Icelandic Farms Animals”. Eydís owns Sölvanes Farmholidays which offers accommodation in an old farm house. She also offers visitors the opportunity to experience the everyday life of Icelandic sheep farmers. Sigrún runs Stórhóll Runalist Galleri where visitors can find handicrafts made out of natural materials. Visitors can also visits the Icelandic goats and other farm animals. In addition to a farm environment in Lýtingsstaðir, Evelyn offers horseback riding tours with a touch of Icelandic cultural heritage. In fact, she has reconstructed an Icelandic old stable made of turf (see picture below).
During the next months, I will publish posts and short videos about each of these visits. So stay tuned to learn more about responsible animal-based tourism in Iceland!