Birgir Gudmundsson has seen the hotel industry in Iceland develop. His career as a GM has seen growth, too.
REYKJAVIK, Iceland—After beginning his career at both of Reykjavik’s Radisson Blu properties and advancing to GM of the independent Kvosin Downtown Hotel, Birgir Gudmundsson now finds himself the head of the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina. And according to him, it’s the coolest property in Iceland.
Gudmundsson, a 36-year-old Reykjavik native, became GM of the property in April 2014. He said he delights in leading the hotel, which is owned by Icelandair Group. The hotel’s 154 rooms include seven residences in a private area at one end of the property and consist of several formerly rundown townhouses alongside the harbor. The front doors are a five-minute walk from the city’s convention center.
Gudmundsson entered the world of hotels due to his desire to work with people and “not behind the walls of a bank.”
His original plan was to travel the world, but following hotel-management studies at the Brig, Switzerland campus of César Ritz Colleges, Gudmundsson met his wife and returned to Iceland. That’s when he saw an Icelandic hospitality scene dramatically changing.
“Just a few years ago, Iceland was totally different,” Gudmundsson said. “It was more like a resort, fully allocated in summer, and with winters given over to business, and only local business at that.”
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Gudmundsson said the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina’s harbor area was not the most inviting when the property first opened in 2012.* The hotel also has been expanded since it first opened.
“The area was old, industrial. It had parallels with Berlin and Williamsburg (Brooklyn),” Gudmundsson said, referring to two other current hot spots that not long ago were also less than desirable. Gudmundsson’s trips to New York City inspired the design of the Reykjavik hotel.
“The hotel is now the lynchpin for the area, and it is satisfying to watch the transformation,” he said. “We have brought the environment into the hotel, the ship docks being incorporated into its history and design.”
The property became an immediate success with locals, Gudmundsson said, especially when it opened its coffee bar and Slippbarinn bar and restaurant.
Visitors enjoyed the hotel’s hip scene so much—it also features Icelandic books, a small cinema and local art—that 39 rooms were added. The property even recently hosted a conference of cocktail mixologists from around the world.
“There are few hotels in Iceland that have such a varied persona,” Gudmundsson said, “and that definitely works in the guests’ favor, too.”
The property is leased by Icelandair Hotels, and Gudmundsson said that owner-operator business model is rare in Iceland.
Icelandair has three properties open at the moment, according to Gudmundsson, but it also is developing three additional hotels with Hilton Worldwide Holdings: a Canopy by Hilton and two with Curio by Hilton.
“There is room for growth in Iceland, as long as you can diversify your product,” Gudmundsson said.
Correction, 5 April 2016: An earlier version of this story stated the hotel opened in 2010.