The President of Iceland has welcomed stronger ties between Birmingham and Reykjavik after the launch of a new direct flight connecting the two cities.
Flybe recently launched a new ‘twilight’ service to Reykjavik Keflavik Airport that will run until the autumn before reverting to a winter daylight schedule in October.
The Birmingham Post joined the airline’s inaugural flight to the world’s most northernmost capital city and was granted an audience with Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, Iceland’s head of state since 1996.
President Grímsson, who studied political science in the UK, spoke to the Post at the Bessastaðir, the 18th century Icelandic Presidential residence, on the outskirts of Reykjavik.
“I think this new flight opens up for people from the Birmingham area the potential to leave their home in the city and in four or five hours be out in the Icelandic wilderness, a nice restaurant in downtown Reykjavik or over a weekend have an extraordinary experience,” he said.
“I also think it will increase the possibility of Icelanders going to Birmingham to enjoy the amenities and do some shopping, watch some football and generally have a good time in the area. I hope this is a two-way relationship.
“In addition I hope the schools and educational facilities in the Birmingham area will follow the example we have seen in recent years and that they give young people an extraordinary and practical insight by bringing them to Iceland for a few days to let them see the clean energy projects and get a closer understanding of what this is all about.”
Iceland is a world leader in clean fuels and 90 per cent of Reykjavik’s electricity needs are met with renewable energy, something Icelanders take pride in.
“In all this debate about clean energy, whether it is in Britain, in Europe or the US, there are not many places in the world where you can observe what this energy policy is truly about. This is not some political policy, this is reality, in terms of heating houses, swimming pools, agriculture and spas every day,” said President Grímsson.
“That is an important message in terms of where the world is heading.
“When world leaders come to Iceland they can see the problems of global warming, with melting glaciers, but they can also see the solutions.
“One of those solutions is good business because one of the reasons this country survived the banking crisis is through clean energy,” he added.
Iceland’s tourism sector recently overtook fishing as its main source of income and the former Danish colony is now competing with other Scandinavian nations for more visitors from the UK.
“The advantage of Iceland is that the distance between its different elements; the glaciers, the rivers, the volcanoes, the valleys is so short that you can within a single day travel from one extreme of these forces of nature to another, whereas in most countries it takes you a long time,” added President Grímsson.
“In Iceland every ten or 15 minutes the landscape changes in a fundamental way. For most people who travel from across the world it is a striking confrontation with mother nature.
“We have around 330,000 people on this island which means that there are vast parts of the country in which you can be alone with nature and that is another experience which is unique.”
Promote Iceland, the country’s tourism marketing department has launched a high-profile campaign ‘Come and be inspired by Iceland’ to showcase its attractions and promote the message ‘it’s closer than you think’. The Birmingham to Reykjavik flight takes just over two and a half hours.
Among the Atlantic island’s most famous sites is the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa – described as one of the 25 natural wonders of the world – and Reykjavik itself, home to vibrant bars, restaurants, cultural venues and a UNESCO City of Literature.
Work has started on Iceland’s first five-star hotel in the Reykjavik harbour area, next to the striking Harpa concert hall and conference centre which has had more than 1.7 million visitors since opening in May 2011.
The country’s location, just below the Arctic circle, makes for long summer days with near 24 hours of daylight, offset by short winter days with very little sunlight at all
The country’s rugged scenery provides a dramatic backdrop for filmmakers with scenes from TV series Game of Thrones and the movie Noah, starring Russell Crowe, filmed on location there.
Sunday’s inaugural flight to Reykjavik marked the first scheduled service to the Icelandic airport from Birmingham and the flight was welcomed by a traditional water arc over the Flybe aircraft as it taxied on arrival.
Flybe’s routes director, Fred Kochak, was greeted by the UK Ambassador to Iceland, His Excellency Mr Stuart Gill, at a special reception to welcome the flight.
Mr Kochak said: “Flybe is truly proud to be the first to offer scheduled flights between these two great cities, linking Birmingham and Reyjkavik with regular flights for the first time.
“The enthusiastic welcome we have received has been overwhelming and we are pleased with the way in which our new twilight routes have been received.”
FIVE FACTS ABOUT ICELAND
It is the youngest landmass in Europe and home to the continent’s oldest parliament, formed in 930AD.
It is 40,000 sq miles in size, making it slightly bigger than Hungary and Portugal, but only has a population of 319,000.
More than half of Iceland’s inhabitants live in the capital city.
Glaciers cover more than 10 per cent of the island.
The theogermal energy under ground is used to heat more than 170 public swimming baths around the country.