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With Eyjafjallajokull and its ash-spewing cloud, many predict Iceland's tourism sector will do some exploding of its own.
SKAFTAFELL NATIONAL PARK, East Iceland — Did you get to see the volcano?
It’s the first question people ask when I tell them I’ve just been to Iceland. Everyone, it seems, is fascinated by Eyjafjallajokull and its ash-spewing cloud.
And while many international travelers have griped about volcano-related upheavals, here in Iceland, there’s a strong sense that the eruption is a cause for celebration.
"We’re on everyone’s minds these days,” said tourism expert Arnar Mar Olafsson, from the driver’s seat of his Land Rover Defender, as we head eastbound out of the main city of Reykjavik, toward Eyjafjallajokull. "People all over the world are fascinated by this," he said with a smile.
Internet images of the eruption are among the most viewed in years, and on eBay, vials of the ash are selling like hot cakes.
And now, with the eyes of the world on them, Olafsson and other tourism boosters in this tiny country of 300,000 people are scrambling to channel this interest into visits. Some say it is already happening.
Arnar Olafsson stands at the edge of a glacier at Skaftafell National Park. (Christine McConville/GlobalPost)
Michael Raucheisen, Icelandair’s marketing director for the Americas, said this summer’s flights are completely booked. Many of the visitors, he said, want to take day trips to the volcano. "In Reykjavik, they can’t keep up with the demand,” Olafsson said, adding that he hasn’t had any summer cancellations at his adventure travel company Icelandic Mountain Guides.
But, he acknowledges, new bookings are way down. "People who only have time for a week holiday don’t want to have their flights cancelled,” said Olafsson, who used to teach classes on the business of tourism at Iceland’s University of Akureyri. “If you are traveling with family or have to get back to work, there’s just too much uncertainty right now.”
We are two hours away from the Reykjavik, when we roll to a stop at the front gates of Thorvaldseyri farm. It’s off of the national road on the eastern part of the island.
There’s a well-worn parking area where about 30 people are gathered. Some carry cameras and video records, others binoculars. A few have tiny glass vials that they’ll later fill with the very fine, midnight black volcanic ash.
We’re about 9 kilometers from the actual eruption, and the ash looks like a puffy white cloud, except it is black, and moving fast. In April, Eyjafjallajokull spewed about 750 tons of ash each second.