In a county with a population of just under 340’000 and 10 times as many visitors it is a legitimate question to ask. How can the tourist industry welcome so many guests? The answer is seasonal workers and immigrants.
As you travel through Iceland, especially in the South West, you will note that you are systematically met and greeted by French guides, Polish receptionist and Irish waitresses. So where are the local people?
Only about 10% of Icelanders work in the leisure and hospitality industry. However, the country welcomes each year nearly 44’000 foreign workers, most of them working in tourism.
According to a recent study by Dr. Hallfríður Þórarinsdóttir “The boom in tourism industry in Iceland in recent years would have been impossible without immigrants.” They now make up 32% of the work force in the Icelandic travel industry and 75% of hotel staff. In hotels, only 24% of the staff is Icelandic, while 37% are Polish, shows her study.
What surprised Hallfríður the most when conducting the research was how little emphasis has been placed on labor, in terms of policy and coverage of the tourism industry. Profitability and nature protection are prioritized, while issues regarding the labor force are on the back burner.
“The tourism industry is labor intensive, calling for unskilled labor, more often than not in the lowest wage bracket. Despite that, the people doing these jobs are oftentimes highly educated in other areas. The jobs generally offer limited opportunity for promotion. The tourism industry has its dark sides, such as illegal employment, paying workers below the minimum wage and human trafficking.” According to the Iceland Monitor.
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