Reykjavík based tour operator, Arctic Adventures, is under fire from the Chairman of the Guiding Union, Leiðsögn, for lowering the quality of tour activities in Iceland.
The union head and former Commissioner of Inland Revenue, Indriði Þorláksson, has sent a letter of complaint to the Competition Authority blaming Arctic Adventures for the decline of tourism standards across the country, as reported by Fréttablaðið.
Arctic Adventures, one of the country’s largest tour operators, merged with its competitor Extreme Iceland in 2017. This deal saw many guides lose their jobs, only to be offered new contracts to work with Arctic Adventures for lesser salaries.
See also: Sustainable Tourism in Iceland
In the letter, Indriði writes that the only choice smaller competitors have is to cut back on their own products and services, making it near impossible for smaller companies to operate. This trend has also led to a steady decline in local guides due to poorer payrolls, as Arctic Adventures has set the wage limit.
A statement from Arctic Adventures, published on Visir.is, denies this is the case; “The merger meant that less staff were needed. Arctic Adventures took over all of Extreme Iceland’s trips, and when it became clear that new jobs were needed, they were advertised. Many who had previously worked for Extreme Iceland applied, and they are now an integral part of our guiding team”.
According to the union, however, the majority of the guides who work for Arctic Adventures are foreign-born and paid minimum wage. Furthermore, many guides are made to work long hours. This is a particularly dangerous combination given the duty-of-care towards customers needed for many of the company’s most popular tours. On top of this, the union reports that some guides must pay rent to Arctic Adventures for the accommodation provided.
Many of Arctic Adventures foreign-born guides are not signed to the Guiding Union, meaning they miss out on the wage agreements and rights set out to protect them. According to Indriði’s letter, some Arctic Adventures employees feel pressured by the fear of losing their jobs if they join the Guiding Union specifically.
Managing director of Arctic Adventures, Jón Þór Gunnarsson, has countered these claims, stating that employees are free to choose which union to join. “There may be a number of reasons why they choose to be in other unions, for example, to obtain medical rights or access holiday homes. The guides’ wage agreement doesn’t relate to which union they are in.”
Jón Þór continues, “We have not had any complaints from staff, and if there were any problems, we would, of course, solve them. If the service were poor, then travellers would look for something else. In times of social media, the word spreads fast when travel companies provide bad services.”