Tourists gather at a waterfall in Iceland, November 2018. (Emily Russo Miller | Juneau Empire)

Tourists gather at a waterfall in Iceland, November 2018. (Emily Russo Miller | Juneau Empire)

Iceland tourism manager to share advice at Innovation Summit

Summit to explore opportunities, challenges of building a sustainable economy

What do Juneau and Iceland have in common? Fast-growing tourism.

“Managing tourism in nature-based countries like Iceland and Alaska will always be a challenge,” said Ásta Kristín Sigurjónsdóttiris, managing director of the Iceland Tourism Cluster. “When tourists are asked for their reason for visiting Iceland, over 80 percent will answer ‘because of nature.’ That means that they want, and they will visit, natural places regardless if there is a structure or a management around that place.”

The Juneau Economic Development Council will hold its annual Innovation Summit on Feb. 20-21, where Sigurjónsdóttiris will be teaching Juneauites a thing or two about how Iceland maintains its status as an optimal future destination for tourists, and ways Juneau can similarly cultivate itself as a travel destination.

Iceland is one of the few Northern places experiencing even faster growth in their tourism industry than Alaska. Iceland has seen visitor volume increase from one million to two million per year in just six years, according to the JEDC.

The Innovation Summit is about more than just tourism though. It’s a business and professional development conference for all types of businesses and backgrounds. The summit’s theme this year is Designing Alaska’s Future, and explores the opportunities and challenges to build an economy that sustains Alaskans into the future.

“The Innovation Summit aims to give Alaskans access to the world’s best and freshest thinking on topics relevant to Alaska’s needs,” said Brian Holst, executive director of the JEDC. “It also affords attendees an opportunity to build networks that will serve them and their ventures for a lifetime.”

Sigurjónsdóttiris will share insights into the drivers of Iceland’s rapid tourism growth, managing community impacts and dealing with workforce and other challenges.

As cruise passengers are expected to increase in Juneau in 2019, figuring out how to promote the industry while retaining the local charm of the city has been a topic of debate around town.

“Other things that are important, as well, are managing the local culture, protecting the language and training foreign employees and treating them with respect,” Sigurjónsdóttiris said. “In destinations that have harsh weather conditions like in the north, security and safety of guests will be a big issue.”

[Economy to take a hit, no matter the budget outcome]

Sigurjónsdóttiris is one of nine total speakers, including City and Borough of Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon; Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, an award-winning author, professor and expert in large-scale systems change, negotiation and industrial relations; University of Alaska System President Jim Johnsen; UA Fairbanks Chancellor Daniel White; UA Southeast Chancellor Rick Caulfield; Nolan Klouda, executive director for UA’s Center for Economic Development; Craig Fleener, a veteran with a background in firefighting, politics, wildlife and environmental management; and Alec Mesdag, vice president of Alaska Electric Light & Power.

“We are excited to bring ideas about where the economy is headed longer-term and how to prepare ourselves, and also address immediate opportunities in existing industries and encourage entrepreneurship,” Holst said.

The event also features a “pitch contest,” which will be hosted by the new Alaska Angel Conference. This year they are adopting the International Business Model Competition criteria that will prepare entrepreneurs for the IBMC and help prepare for the following AK Angel Conference and Alaska Business Plan Competition. They are asking entrepreneurs to share their business model, how they’ve tested it, and their results. Attendees will crowdfund a cash prize for the winner to take home at the end of the session.

You can register now at

• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at or 523-2228.

A viking ship statue is pictured in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland, November 2018. (Emily Russo Miller | Juneau Empire)

A viking ship statue is pictured in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland, November 2018. (Emily Russo Miller | Juneau Empire)

A viking ship statue is pictured in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland, November 2018. (Emily Russo Miller | Juneau Empire)

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