I recently returned from a week’s tourism learning journey to North Iceland, otherwise known as North Iceland Culinary Experience: Innovate, Develop, Taste! (NICE). Like the rest of my group I’m buzzing with ideas about how to share what I’ve learned with others in my industry and beyond and look forward to working on this in the coming weeks and months.

What made the trip and this learning experience most valuable and memorable? It has to be the people. The people, their stories and connections to where they live and work, their approach to life and engaging with visitors. (Not to mention stunning sunrises, geothermal bread baked underground, nature baths, dried fish, the best lamb I’ve ever tasted, creatures I thought I’d never eat – and more).

The purpose of our visit was to look at how businesses in North Iceland are creating and developing tourism, with a strong focus on food and drink and sustainability: how small, often rural, family-run businesses are building stories and a real sense of place around their food and drink activities, and the impact this is having on visitors and tourism growth in the North. As well as learning from our hosts, this was an opportunity to share our collective expertise, skills and experiences from our own businesses and industry sectors.

Everywhere we went on organised visits in North Iceland I was struck by the generosity, openness, positive attitude and hospitality of the people; a real willingness to share insights and knowledge by the businesses and at the same time, a genuine interest in what we were doing in the UK. Feasts of incredible local food and drink were laid on, the stories behind businesses unfolded, often with humour and honesty, but people also displayed tenacity and commitment, particularly when businesses faced difficult times and challenges. Many new business start-ups are being developed and managed by young people and families. Innovation is encouraged. According to the North Iceland Tourist Board the country’s current tourism growth rate is 25% per year, while bringing lots of opportunities, is not without its challenges for the country’s infrastructure and local residents.

Local Food Collective

Local Food Collective

Our UK group comprised twenty industry professionals, ten from Scotland and ten from England, including food and drink producers, event organisers and food buyers, chefs, food and tourism academics, marketers and more. We were fortunate that this group gelled immediately, contributing significantly to the success of the trip, along with two highly skilled and experienced project managers to keep us on track!

In sub-groups of our UK group we are developing three case studies based on our learning in Iceland, focusing on zero waste, innovation and the use of social media – this is probably just the start of several learning outcomes which we look forward to sharing with industry via our respective networks.

I guess one of the most valuable outcomes from this trip is that together with our Icelandic colleagues, together we have gained a powerful new network, one where we can hopefully share insights, experience and knowledge in how we work across food and drink, innovation, sustainability, learning and training, managing food waste and how we communicate and engage with related audiences using social and digital media.

A return trip is definitely in the diary, and many more stories to come. This study visit was made possible by Erasmus Plus funding and organised by Tourism Angles. See some photos and experiences via #niceland on Twitter and on Instagram.

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