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An introduction to guideline rules on safety matters


The Icelandic Tourist Board has issued safety guidelines intended for service operators in the tourist industry who offer leisure tours and excursions, that is, travel agencies and tour operators.

The guideline rules were prepared by a task force comprising representatives from the Icelandic Tourist Board, ICE-SAR (Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue), The Icelandic Tourist Industry Association and the Iceland Tourist Guide Association. The remit of the task force was to compile a Regulation on safety issues within the tourist industry, in connection with a bill already presented to parliament containing proposed amendments to legislation on organisation within the tourist industry. Although the parliamentary debate was not completed during the last session of parliament, it is clear that stiffer demands will be placed upon tourism operators in this sector, and companies are, therefore, urged to comply with the guideline rules as soon as possible.

In a Nutshell

The purpose of these rules is to bring safety standards up to a level which meets the increased demands now made on licensed tour operators and travel agencies. They should also make it simpler for operators to find information on safety requirements for differing types of tour.

  • During the last parliamentary session a bill was presented to parliament concerning amendments to the Tourism Administration Act, No. 73/2005, where, among other points, a proposal was presented to increase the safety demands placed on licensed tour operators and travel agencies. 
  • Concurrently, work was carried out on compiling a Regulation on safety issues. 
  • The debate on this matter was not completed during the last parliamentary session. However, the Icelandic Tourist Board decided to issue guideline rules concerning safety matters.
  • The purpose of this is to present tourism operators with information on those additional demands which will, in all probability, be placed upon their companies regarding safely measures. 
  • These rules are compiled in accordance with demands made within VAKAN, the tourist industry’s quality control and environmental system. 
  • Operators within the tourist industry are urged to familiarise themselves with the guidelines and incorporate them into their operations. 


In July 2011 the Ministry of Industries and Innovation instructed the Icelandic Tourist Board to compile draft guidelines for a Regulation concerning the issue of permits to tourism operators, in accordance with the Tourism Administration Act, No. 73/2005. The Regulation is a continuation of work carried out on the parliamentary bill concerning amendments to existing legislation on operations within the tourist industry. This would target the issuing of licences, as well as supervision and safety with regard to licence holders.

In the wake of this development, the Icelandic Tourist Board established a three person task force comprising Helena Þ. Karlsdóttir from the Icelandic Tourist Board, who led the task force, Gunnar Valur Sveinsson from SAF (The Icelandic Tourist Industry Association) and Jónas Guðmundsson from ICE-SAR (Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue). In November 2011 Bryndís Kristjánsdóttir, representative for the Iceland Tourist Guide Association, joined the group.

In September 2012 a bill was presented to parliament concerning amendments to the Tourism Administration Act, No. 73/2005, where, among other things, additional safety demands were proposed, concerning operators within the tourism industry who offered recreational tours. Concurrently, work was started on compiling a Regulation on safety in this field.

Making use of time and eliciting feedback

When it became evident that the bill would not be fully ratified by the end of the present parliamentary session, the Icelandic Tourist Board decided to issue guideline safety rules, based on the Regulation. The purpose of this measure was to publicise the proposed additional demands, using the time available while waiting for a binding Regulation to be passed, to elicit feedback from the industry, and smooth out any complications which might arise. “When the bill with amendments to the legislation is carried, containing the additional safety requirements placed upon the companies, a Regulation on safety demands will be enacted, and we hope that these provisional rules, having taken into consideration the comments submitted, will constitute a basis for this Regulation. Implementation of those rules could take some time, however, and I urge tourism operators to comply with them in their activities. We hope to receive feedback, and if we use our time well I am sure that when the Regulation is finalised, it will be met with general satisfaction.” Says Helena Karlsdóttir, lawyer for the Icelandic Tourist Board.

Extensive cooperation – many deficiencies

The task force put a great deal of work and effort into mapping out safety issues relevant to tourism, and involved many parties from various service operators within that industry. These representatives cooperated in providing data on safety issues and it came to light that there were many deficiencies which required attention:

  • The priority consideration was held to be employees’ knowledge and experience.
  • Safety matters are, in general, deficient.
  • There is insufficient knowledge and competency in the industry. 
  • Low demands are placed on tourism operators.
  • Many companies do not have a safety and contingency plan. 

Priority issue – staff knowledge and experience

In light of the fact that, among tourism operators, staff knowledge and experience was given priority, the task force decided to emphasise that facet of their remit. It was suggested that staff who act as tour guides should be in possession of certain knowledge and experience and have completed the required courses. The proposed regulations also take into consideration the demands exerted by the newly founded Iceland Tourist Guide Association, regarding walking excursions on glaciers, glacier tongues, difficult mountain terrain and ski tours outside designated skiing areas. It is also recommended that tourism operators compile a safety plan comprising categories such as risk assessment, a work procedures plan, contingency plan and incident report.

Excursions on land given special consideration

In current regulations, excursions are divided into four categories, land, sea, rivers and lakes and air. When examining the legislative environment of the tourist industry, it becomes clear that issues relating to safety and supervision are well catered for with regard to operators who offer tours by air, by sea and on rivers and lakes. On the other hand, there is a severe lack of safety regulations in the category dealing with excursions on land. The provisional rules, therefore, apply primarily to excursions on land. However, with regard to travel by sea, by air, on rivers and lakes, we refer to existing laws and regulations.

Under consideration – a commission of inquiry into accidents in the tourism industry

With a view to frequent accidents in the tourist industry, the task force is unanimous in its resolve to look into the possibility of setting up a commission of inquiry comparable to those already in place regarding air, sea and traffic accidents. The commission’s role would be to investigate those accidents involving the tourist industry which do not fall into a category covered by any other commissions of inquiry. Representatives from tourist operators who took part in discussions with the task force placed heavy emphasis on the necessity for setting up such a commission. The task force will present a proposition on the role and formation of such a commission.

Safety guidelinelines for tour operators and travel agencies