Icelandic Losing Ground in Tourism Industry

Vala Hafstað

“When Icelanders traveled around their own country in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they frequently received quality service in English, and had to put up with reading menus, ads and announcements in English as well,” states a news release about a new study done for Hólar University College, Morgunblaðið reports. Its purpose was to find out which language is the main one in the Icelandic travel industry.

The study was done by Ágústa Þorbergsdóttir, an employee of the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, and Anna Vilborg Einarsdóttir and Sigríður Sigurðardóttir, assistant professors at Hólar University College’s Department of Tourism.

What the researchers discovered is that companies in the travel industry appear to have trouble promoting Icelandic or using it in their services. Company officials believe English needs to be the main language in travel-related services, especially with regard to marketing, and the majority sees no reason to use Icelandic along with English.

The huge influx of foreign tourists to the country in 2018 and 2019 had a major impact on language in this sector. A labor shortage among Icelanders resulted in numerous foreigners from a number of countries being hired to fill positions in the travel industry. As a result, English was more commonly used and Icelandic less often. More emphasis was placed on having employees learn English than Icelandic. “The fact is that [English] is becoming the main language in the travel industry,” the report states.

As English became more commonly used, the number of companies choosing to have English names went up. Most of the latest signs, advertising goods and services, are in English. The researchers wonder if the change is permanent.

They believe it’s the right of foreign tourists to encounter Icelandic in its own environment, and the right of those who speak Icelandic to obtain information about goods and services in Icelandic.

They emphasize the importance of offering foreign employees and immigrants various opportunities to study Icelandic. Companies in the travel industry must be encouraged, they state, to offer foreign workers job-related instruction in Icelandic during working hours. 

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