by Lisa Grimaldi | February 01, 2004

Cool capital: Reykjavik might soon get a downtown conference center

Its population might be tiny there are only about 280,000 people in the entire country but Iceland offers a surprisingly rich array of attractions and venues for groups.
   Reykjavik, the clean, hip capital, is a four-hour flight from the Eastern United States (Icelandair has daily nonstops from Boston and Baltimore) to Keflavík International Airport. From European capitals, it’s a two- to three-hour flight.
   Nearly everyone in this Scandinavian country speaks English. The locals seem to enjoy striking up conversations with visitors about customs or hot spots not to be missed. It’s  the kind of place where a city bus driver tells an obvious tourist to “pay for the ticket the next time you come to Iceland” when a rider does not have the correct change in Icelandic krona, the country’s currency. (Iceland is one of the few European countries that has not converted to the euro.)
   Visits should be carefully timed: In winter, the country has but a few scant hours of daylight. On the other extreme, Iceland gets nearly 20 hours of sunlight in summer.

Meeting facilities
Iceland has the fastest growing meetings industry in Europe, according to a survey conducted last year by the Union of International Associations, a Brussels-based umbrella organization for associations. In the past decade, the country has seen a 173 percent increase in meetings business.
   Rósbjörg Jónsdóttir, project manager at the Iceland Convention & Incentive Bureau, says the dramatic growth will result in facility expansions over the next few years, including the likely addition of a downtown conference center in Reykjavik.
   Currently, the capital’s meeting and convention venues include Háskólabíó, the country’s largest conference and cultural center, which has an auditorium that accommodates 997 and four smaller auditoriums.
   The City Theater has two auditoriums that accommodate 200 and 530, respectively, plus six function rooms and 7,500 square feet of exhibition space in the lobby.
   One of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions, The Blue Lagoon, is a meeting venue as well. The complex offers changing facilities, a spa, a restaurant, a bar and a meeting room that holds 100 in addition to the warm, opalescent-blue geothermal pool where visitors can swim or soak all year round. The Blue Lagoon is a 40-minute ride from the capital, through a surreal, moonlike landscape of lava fields.

The big news on Reykjavik’s hospitality front is the Nordica Hotel. The sleek, 248-room property, formerly the Hotel Esja, was completely renovated, expanded and reflagged last year. The hotel has a large ballroom, a business center and nine additional meeting rooms. Other draws: a large fitness center and a spa offering more than 30 types of treatments.
   Hotel Loftleidir, at the foot of Reykjavik’s scenic Öskjuhlíd Hill, is the city’s second-largest, with 220 guest rooms, 13 meeting rooms and a 110-seat auditorium.
   The 216-room Radisson SAS Saga Hotel, near the University of Iceland and a short walk from the city center, has 10 meeting rooms.
   Another meetings property is the 119-room Radisson SAS Island Hotel, within walking distance of the picturesque old city center. The hotel has one meeting room that holds up to 100.