Articles - August 2018


Interview with Iceland's Consul General in New York, Hlynur Gudjonsson

In keeping with our Consul General series, Diplomatic Connections recently interviewed Iceland's Consul General in New York, Hlynur Gudjonsson. He's been a diplomat for approximately 12 years and prior to that, he was working in corporate America.  His business background has given him a substantial foundation to work from in his current career as a government representative. Gudjonsson views his appointment as an opportunity to broaden the consulate's traditional role in keeping with modern demands being made on the practice of diplomacy.

Diplomatic Connections:  How and when did your career in diplomacy begin?

Consul General Gudjonsson:  I come from the business side and was working for a corporation in the U.S. when I was asked to take over the Icelandic trade mission for North America at the end of year 2005. My diplomatic career started in January 2006.

Diplomatic Connections:  How did you come to be a diplomat in New York?

Consul General Gudjonsson: After serving as the trade commissioner for three years, the Consul General position became available.  I was asked to assume those duties as well, which I was happy to do.

Diplomatic Connections:  What is the anticipated length of stay for your particular posting here in New York?

Consul General Gudjonsson: I started out as the trade commissioner and still hold that position.  Most countries tend to keep their trade people for longer periods of time in the U.S.  Why?  Because it takes considerable time and effort to build a practical and effective business network in such large markets.

Diplomatic Connections:  How do you define the mission of a consulate in general and for your nation specifically?

Consul General Gudjonsson: The consulate’s mission is to serve our nationals, whatever their needs are, as well as to promote Iceland and its people, brands and culture.  The trade commission´s goal is to increase the nation’s prosperity.  We try to accomplish this by increasing the positive awareness of Iceland in North America through promotions of our products, services and culture in our target markets.
The stronger the position that Iceland builds in the market, the more likely our companies can open doors to build new business. Therefore, a strong Iceland brand has a better chance of attracting new and diverse foreign direct investment, and of maintaining and advancing interest in Iceland as a destination.  A strong Iceland brand is also better prepared to deal with crisis, economic or other.
We focus as well on various issues that matter to Icelanders, beyond business and trade, such as gender equality, as we understand that human rights are a cornerstone of a healthy society and vital to continued prosperity.

Diplomatic Connections:  What is its role in New York versus another city in the United States?

Consul General Gudjonsson: New York is the hub of business and trade management for Iceland in North America.  The office is well supported by our embassies in Ottawa and Washington, D.C.; by our honorary consuls in North America; and by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Reykjavík.  We work closely with partners such as Promote Iceland, Invest in Iceland, Film in Iceland, Innovation Center Iceland, and with various businesses and industry associations.

Diplomatic Connections:  How is the consulate organized specifically in New York?

Consul General Gudjonsson:  We are a small office focused on Iceland, our core industries, foreign direct investment and the start-up ecosystem in Iceland and culture.  The office is also responsible for collaborations with the other Nordic countries in North America.  We partner with Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland on projects such as Nordic Innovation House-New York, Nordic City Solutions, Nordic Welfare Solutions and various cultural initiatives in the U.S. and Canada.
The trade commission, in partnership with Promote Iceland, is also responsible for the management of the Iceland Naturally marketing program (   We also manage the Icelandic American Chamber of Commerce and the Icelandic Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Diplomatic Connections:  What region does the consulate represent for the northeast corridor?

Consul General Gudjonsson: The consulate covers New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island and hosts the Icelandic trade mission for the U.S. and Canada.

Diplomatic Connections:  How is the economic collaboration of your country with the United States?

Consul General Gudjonsson: The economic relationship with the U.S. continues to be strong.  The U.S. is a vital export market for Iceland and the leading source of imports to our country. It is by far our largest customer when it comes to goods and services.
The growth of tourism has been extraordinary, making the U.S. our most important source of visitors.  According to Travel Weekly magazine, Reykjavík was Americans’ third most-favored destination in 2017 (up from 28th place in 2015).  That’s behind only London and Paris and ahead of Rome and Amsterdam, which is enormous for a nation of 350,000 people.
The U.S. has also been the largest foreign direct investor in Iceland for a long time and the interest in investing continues to grow.

Diplomatic Connections:  What is the role of the consulate when you have elections in your country?

Consul General Gudjonsson: The consulate’s role is to host and organize a polling station in at the consulate to enable Icelanders in the area to take part in elections, both parliamentary and local.

Diplomatic Connections:  What services does the consulate offer to your country’s nationals residing in your district as well as visiting tourists?

Consul General Gudjonsson: The consulate’s prime responsibility is to assist Icelandic nationals in need of help.  They can come to the consulate to apply for passports including attaining one in the case of an emergency where someone might be injured or need medical help.  We also have a responsibility to ensure that Icelanders who may be arrested by police get due legal representation and we pay visits to those serving prison sentences in the U.S., if they so wish.

Diplomatic Connections:  How does the consulate participate in the cultural and touristic promotion of your nation in the U.S.?

Consul General Gudjonsson: We focus on public diplomacy, not just coming into a market doing something as Iceland but really engaging with the local audience and talent.  This we accomplish in numerous ways.  One example is the Reykjavik Calling concert where we curate talents from Iceland with musicians from the local market for an evening of music collaboration. Another example is our relationship with the radio station in Seattle.
KEXP has created close to 300 Icelandic music videos at Iceland Airwaves and their studio in Seattle.  The collection has received over 60 million views and they have discovered bands like Of Monsters and Men through this partnership.  It is a long-term vision, creating bonds between the local market and Iceland that will last for more than the three hour concert.  The office organizes larger events such as Taste of Iceland in New York, Seattle, Boston, etc. through Iceland Naturally. We have a large social media presence and showcase our nation, its products, services and culture online, through a mix of marketing activities.  Additionally, our purpose is to assist travelers going to Iceland with information on it as a destination, visa questions, customs, etc.

Diplomatic Connections:  How can the consulate help those who are not citizens of your country planning to travel to your country?

Consul General Gudjonsson: The U.S. is our largest tourist market and we are a small office, but we answer requests in the thousands every year.  We’ve built good websites for people to check out when planning a trip, specifically:, and
Our country offers unique and dramatic nature, wonderful food and inspiring art and culture.  It is divided into seven geographical regions:  West, Westfjords, North, East, South, Reykjanes and Reykjavík/the capital area.  Each region offers a host of diverse experiences for the visitor to enjoy, from puffins (see photos on page 72) in the East to the black beaches of the South, from the Dynjandi waterfall in the Westfjords to whale watching in the North. Visitors can hop from one tectonic plate to another in Reykjanes, descend into a glacier in the West or explore buzzing downtown Reykjavík. Travelers can find information about the different regions at:

Diplomatic Connections:  What would the difference be if you were to make suggestions for a tourist versus someone going there on business?

Consul General Gudjonsson: The Icelandic airlines offer stopovers in Iceland, free of charge, on the way to Europe and the other way around.  It’s a great option for business travelers to spend a weekend there before they head on to their meetings.  It is also a good idea for tourists going on vacation in Europe, a vacation within a vacation.
For the business person, a visit to Reykjavík makes the most of possibly limited time.  Our capital is a hotbed of activity all year around, with a remarkable number of annual festivals and seasonal events.  The city boasts seven swimming pools warmed with Iceland’s famous geothermal water.  People will also discover a thriving cultural scene with outstanding restaurants and a variety of interesting galleries, theaters and sports facilities.
People can also take day tours outside of the city, to glaciers in West or South Iceland, for example, or to the Blue Lagoon in Reykjanes.
Iceland is a large island and there is plenty to see and do all year around: Whale watching, hiking, snowmobiling, ice climbing, caving, horseback riding, diving and even northern-light hunting during the winter as well as museums, music, design and other cultural activities and events. For the tourist, I would suggest spending several days in the capital area, and then venturing out to other regions.  Don’t rush, give it time and then come back for more.

Diplomatic Connections:  Are there any upcoming cultural events organized by the consulate?  Are they open to the public?

Consul General Gudjonsson: Yes, we have Taste of Iceland events coming up in New York, Sept. 27-30; in Seattle, Oct. 11-14; in Toronto, Nov. 15-18; in Boston next March; and in Chicago next April. Sign up for our newsletter to follow our events calendar, stay tuned at:

Diplomatic Connections:  If you had a message for our readers specifically concerning your country, what would it be and why?

Consul General Gudjonsson: Come to our country; it's an easy, welcoming and beautiful place to visit.  This large island offers plenty of places where you find both action and tranquility.
The legal framework and infrastructure are in many ways very European, like that of the other Nordic countries. English is widely spoken.  You will discover that the experience of doing business in Iceland is similar to working elsewhere in Europe – and at times possibly easier.

Enjoy Iceland!
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