Skip to main content Skip to main nav

Austurland – East-Iceland – Using Destination Design

Daniel Byström, Design Nation

Áfangastaðurinn Austurland is Icelandic for Destination East Iceland. It is a project for developing the Destination of East Iceland. East Iceland (Austurland in Icelandic) is the home to Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier. With 10,300 inhabitants in 15,792 km2, Austurland is characterized by small villages, dramatic coastline, narrow fjord, waterfalls and mountains. Austurland possesses good infrastructures as well a creative community and strong businesses.

Tourism has grown to become the largest export product for Iceland. During the last decade, the income from tourism has more than doubled, and the forecast shows that the growth will continue. Austurland has seen increased number of visitors, and opportunities to create value from tourism. However, in addition to economic opportunities, this rapid increase has also posed major challenges, including absorbing and managing such a rapid growth. Moreover, Austurland wanted to guarantee that the process respects the environment and that the opportunities benefit the whole community living and working in the region. 

How design helped

Destination Design: Telling a Good Story

This is how a destination design process may be explained:

  1. Understanding: preparing the story
  2. Create: Build-up the story
  3. Implement: Tell the story
  4. Bring to life: the story lives

Within the initiative Áfangastaðurinn Austurland, the tools and methods being used are based in destination design. The thoughts of bringing in “Destination Design” were raised in very early stages, concretely in 2012 during the final event of Creative Communities project. During the event there was a keynote about Destination Design and a workshop focusing on “How can we together develop our region?” The focus and the methods used caught the interest from several participants, including East Iceland Tourism Association - FAUST / Ferðamálasamtök Austurlands and in September 2014 the project started.

The process is based on three phases:

  1. Build a Design Strategy: “The future Austurland”. Aims and strategies for developing the destination; the experiences and services, to attract visitors and residents to the whole region of Austurland.
  2. Create a Design Program: Building a “toolbox” from the specific needs regionally and locally, to guide future actions.
  3. Apply Design: Design and develop places and services on the basis of the Design Strategy and the Design Program.

The initiative is characterized by a sustainable perspective; economically, socially and ecologically. The development process is based in a dialogue with all the community. It is a joint development process that is owned and run by the stakeholders together. This involves all the municipalities in the region, companies, associations, and all the people who live and work in Austurland.



Áfangastaðurinn Austurland destination design project started in 2014 and the first activities have been already developed, including phase 1 (stakeholder mapping, destination design workshop 1); phase 2 (research, interviews, surveys; business intelligence analysis and benchmarking, workshop 2); phase 3 (evaluation of design concepts and visual identity, initiation of development of RDMO). Phase 4 of implementation is on track:

  • Based on Áfangastaðurinn Austurland, the municipalities of Austurland are currently working on both establishing a regional destination management organisation (RDMO) and preparing a Destination Management Plan (DMP). Based on the principles of destination design, both initiatives will be based on a collaborative platform connecting all stakeholders. 
  • Developed from a community-based process, Áfangastaðurinn Austurland has created a brand platform and a brand vision ‘East Iceland Wonders’, based on communicating experiences and emotions based on outdoor activities, food, culture and creativity. 

Áfangastaðurinn Austurland is fully integrated the 2015-2020 Road Map for Tourism in Iceland and in the regional strategy for Austurland 2015-2019. 

This case study has been developed under BEDA “Design Europe 2021 – Design for Cultural and Creative Growth” project, co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.


Daniel Byström
Project Manager, Design Nation and Daniel Byström Design