Based in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavick, The family owned and run whale watching company Elding was founded in 2000, born of many family members passion for their country’s wildlife, and of a belief that responsible ecotourism might be the perfect way to channel this. While the company offers all that one might expect from such an operator in Iceland – namely whale watching, fishing trips, tours to see puffins, and of course the Northern Lights, it is how much further it goes that really sets it apart.
Elding has been awarded a raft of green tourism certification for its efforts – EarthCheck, Vakinn Enviro Gold from the Icelandic Tourist Board, GreenGlobe, Blue Flag recognition – and each time it has commented that it sees these not as goals to attain, but stepping stones and measures of its progress. Last year, it became Iceland’s first WRTD logo user, another step in its mission to promote responsible tourism throughout Iceland. According to General Manager Rannveig Grétarsdottir: “Becoming a WRTD logo user connects us to a growing movement of companies spreading the message of responsible tourism to as many people as possible.”
In recent years increasing numbers of restaurants in Iceland have been featuring whale meat on their menu, and the meat often comes from whales which were hunted in Faxaflói bay; the area where Elding goes whale watching. The restaurants present whale meat as part of the traditional Icelandic diet, and suggest that eating it supports a generations long industry. Tourists interested in experiencing local cultures and traditions thus give it a go, regardless of the fact, as Rannveig explains, that these so called traditional restaurants include Mexican.
As a result Elding has long been an active supporter of IFAW’s Meet me Don’t Eat me campaign, which promotes ethical whale watching as opposed to meat consumption to tourists visiting Iceland. According to IFAW a 2010 Gallup poll revealed only 5% of Icelanders actually eat whale meat, while, claim IFAW, up to 40% of visitors to Iceland sample whale meat while there. Elding also ensures that it uses it position to educate as well as entertain, with every trip having marine biologists and researchers on board. Guests are presented with the issues while on board, and asked not to eat at restaurants serving whale meat while in Iceland.
And while this initial drive may have come from the passion of the family that owns the business, it is clear that it is not a top down set of edicts passed on to a disengaged staff or disinterested tourists. The company makes it clear that when it comes to defining its vision, “our captains, engineers, guides, crew members, bus drivers, ticket sales, office workers and so on work closely together to implement our environmental policy and make it as efficient as possible”.
It is also an extremely socially inclusive company. All too often one sees companies who espouse strong green credentials or poverty alleviation, but then make no mention of, for example, how they address accessibility issues or whether they are open to all people. Elding’s ‘About’ section of its website includes an LGBT policy which states: ‘Ever since Elding was founded we have been an actively LGBT friendly company, emphasising a warm welcome, open-mindedness and a friendly approach on each of our tours.’ It’s a focus that is all too rarely seen.
Foremost of course, they run fantastic tours, with whales such as orcas, minke and humpbacks seen on 95% of other trips in the summer and 80% in the winter, with an offer of a complimentary tour if nothing is spotted. Their commitment to sustainability and responsible whale watching seems to be paying off – by committing to keep a constant speed and not chase after each spout that is seen in the distance, the whales are undisturbed by their boats presence and will often surface a few metres from the vessel’s hull, providing incredible sightings for the guests. it all comes together to ensure, that like so many of WRTD’s supporters, Elding are providing better holidays for people thanks to their commitment to preserving the environment they love and call home.