Sami Marttinen, the founder and CEO of Swappie – “You learn so much faster if you know how to fail quickly”
Greetings from Iceland! I visited Reykjavik with my team to take in the cultural and commercial offerings of the city earlier this autumn. Iceland is a quirky little place: amidst the rough nature and windy weather, the nation is confident in all they do. This tiny nation of 300 000 people living in the middle of nowhere is among the best soccer players in the world and does well in basketball, too. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and Icelanders most definitely have the will for pretty much anything. One can’t help but wonder: did they sneak to Finland and steal our sisu? I set to find out this and more, when I travelled to Iceland to explore the local malls with my colleagues.
When the 2008 financial crisis hit Iceland, I remember feeling sorry for the small country. How will they tackle this, I wondered. They survived more than okay, as it turned out. Somehow the tiny nation mustered up the courage to revive its economy with the tourism industry as a leading engine. The fishing industry has fallen second after the tourism rise.
We got the chance to hear Visit Iceland share their views on the pivotal impact tourism has had on the country’s economy. With as many as six travellers per capita, the country has been visited by nearly three million tourists within the last couple of years. The administration of the capital, Reykjavik, invested in tourism that the city’s marketing team now works at the City Hall side by side with all the important decision makers. In light of figures that’s more than justified: Reykjavik boasts an incredible 4000 hotel rooms and 4000 AirBnb flats, and the occupancy rate is up all year round! As the city centre fills with tourists, many locals move towards the outskirts of the city.
Growing tourism also affects commerce. In accordance with their persistent nature, Icelanders have built multiple malls to Reykjavik, and many high profile, global brands have expanded their market to the tiny country. Just the two malls we visited, Kringlan and Smaralind, together boast tens and tens of shops and restaurants. The number of shopping opportunities in Iceland exceeds the locals’ needs by a tenfold – but travellers make sure that there is enough consumption to sustain the businesses.
With the growing retail industry the city centre has become more lively. Previously vacant business spaces now present name brand stores, souvenir boutiques and restaurants. Simultaneously, rents have gone up in price. Entrepreneurship has become a significant source of livelihood in Reykjavik.
It is clear the tourism has done Iceland a world of good. I started to wonder, however, if the growing industry might also present the country with challenges. Will the country’s precious nature and authentic vibe suffer from mass tourism? Will the locals grow irritated with the flocks of travellers taking over the city? Apparently not! The City Hal states that over 90 per cent of Icelanders are avid supporters of tourism.
It is clear, however, that there are limits to growth – in a tiny country like Iceland quite literally, as the physical borders come in the way. I believe that malls can become a solution to this problem. As the city’s centre fills up and prices soar, shopping moves towards the edges of the city. Densely built malls and entertainment centres set in the outer districts of Reykjavik make sure that there is plenty of things to do for consumption-hungry travellers even when they’ve run out of natural wonders to marvel at.
Inspired by all of this, we at the Mall of Tripla are now eager to explore what kind of services we could provide to the tourists visiting Helsinki. Not so surprisingly, their number is on the rise too!