‘The Company’s Responsibility is Great’

Minister of Tourism Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir.

Minister of Tourism Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir. mbl.is/Kristinn Magnússon

Vala Hafstað

“Given the information now available, I don’t see how the company could rightly make the decision to take a trip under the circumstances,” Icelandic Minister of Tourism Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir tells Morgunblaðið .

She is referring to the snowmobile tour company Mountaineers of Iceland’s decision Tuesday to take a group of 39 tourists on a trip in the highlands despite a warning from the Icelandic Met Office, saying that no travel was advised, due to an imminent blizzard.

All 39 people were rescued by volunteer rescue teams in severe weather in an operation that lasted from 8 pm Tuesday night until about 8 am the next morning.

From the rescue operation Tuesday night.

From the rescue operation Tuesday night. Photo/ICE-SAR

Haukur Herbertsson, director of operations at Mountaineers of Iceland, told reporters yesterday that human error had caused the tourists to be stranded in the highlands. He stated that all of the company’s trips but this one were canceled Tuesday. The plan had been to complete the trip by 3 pm, but a visit to an ice cave and tough driving conditions delayed those plans.

The South Iceland Police Department launched an investigation into the matter Tuesday night.

From the rescue operation Tuesday night.

From the rescue operation Tuesday night. Photo/ICE-SAR

“In recent years, we have increased discussion about safety issues in tourism,” Þórdís Kolbrún states. We have worked on creating a policy, where the emphasis is for everyone to work in unison when it comes to safety.” She adds that the law regarding the Icelandic Tourist Board requires companies in the tourism industry to have security plans, to do a risk assessment and to take external conditions into account.

“The demands are very clear, and the law is clear,” Þórdís Kolbrún emphasizes, “which is why the company’s responsibility is great.” Therefore, she does not believe stricter regulations are needed.

Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, CEO of SAF, the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, agrees that stricter regulations are not needed. “We live in a country where Nature can be very inclement, and that has to be taken into account,” he states. “It must be the companies’ duty to do everything in their power to ensure the safety of their customers and guests.

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