From Vikings to Visitors: The World's Oldest Democracy Can Boast One of Europe's Lowest Unemployment Rates and Highest Life Expectancies

Article excerpt

The world's oldest democracy can boast one of Europe's lowest unemployment rates and highest life expectancies

At the beginning of this century Iceland was one of the poorest countries in Europe and only gained full independence from the Danish crown in 1944. Since then the country has experienced a post war economic boom. It now has one of the highest life expectancy rates in Europe and the fifth highest per capita income in the world.

Iceland's relatively new prosperity is the result of the effectiveness of the fishing industry which has replaced agriculture as the most important source of revenue. The Vikings who settled Iceland in the 10th century relied on fanning for a living.

However, their farming methods soon eroded the thin layer of soil that covers the lava plains. This not only destroyed the great forests of redwood trees that covered the island, but meant that farming was severely curtailed and largely restricted to grazing land.

Fish based economy

After fishing, tourism is Iceland's most important source of foreign revenue. As such it has been targeted by the government for growth with the announcement last year of a tourism strategy plan. According to Icelandic Tourist Board marketing director Magnus Asgeirsson part of the plan is to increase stays out of season annually by 8% until 2005 when, with the expected growth for summer tourism, they will have reached the country's target of 350,000 visitors.

This is part of the overall aim of increasing tourism revenue by 6% a year bringing the total income from tourists to US$ 567m ([pounds]354m) by 2005.

In Reykjavik a tourism strategy calls for the city to become the cleanest capital in the word by 2002. It is already the cleanest capital in Europe and the pure air is part of its attraction for those who live there. "The clean air makes it possible to see mountains 100km away," says City of Reykjavik director of tourism Anna Margret Gudjonsdottir.

This small city is justifiably proud of the outstanding natural scenery that surrounds it and the new marketing slogan - Reykjavik: next door to nature adopted last year aims to make more people aware of its unique selling point.

Reykjavik in the millennium

In 2000 Reykjavik will also be one of several European cultural capitals named in recognition of this milestone year. …