Aspire meets Sigurlaug Sverrisdóttir who looked at ash clouds and a geothermal plant and was inspired to create a unique luxury hotel: ION Hotel Iceland.
1. What lead you to create a boutique hotel concept?
When we lived in Switzerland we were constantly looking out for a summer-house in this area, as it’s one of the greatest spots in Iceland, next to Thingvellir National Park. Properties rarely come on sale as they tend to stay in families for generations. Then we noticed that a former staff building of a geothermal power plant was up for auction. We immediately recognised the business opportunity for a hotel as there were none in this area. There used to be one within Thingvellir National Park but it closed in 2009. We purchased the building in 2011 when Iceland had recently been put on the map due to the Eyjafjallajokull ash cloud. The financial crisis had caused a major slow down period in investments and constructions and therefore we believed this was the right time to start preparing for increased tourism in Iceland.
2. How involved in the design of the hotel were you?
Very! I project managed the whole thing from start to finish. I had never built a house before, let alone a hotel, so it was a major learning curve. The architects were in LA and I was there at the site, every day, liaising between architects, carpenters, designers and builders in order to get it all finished in time and make it just right. Such as with many hotel projects, we were running behind the original schedule and we needed to complete in time for soft opening as we already had bookings from February 2013. We were almost full for the first month when we opened. I used several Icelandic designers, photographers, artists and stylists as everything had to be authentic, organic and Icelandic. Everything from the pictograms to wooden info books, signs, uniforms, music, body products, furniture and art is made by local professionals using local materials. Everything had to be local and organic with a strong link to nature as it is something I am passionate about and I am very aware that this is the main reason for people to visit Iceland. For example our ‘do not disturb’ signs are made by an Icelandic designer and they say ‘let sleeping ducks lie’ which is a nod to the iconic bird of Thingvellir, the Great Northern Diver.
3. You have won more than 12 awards since launching the hotel in 2013. What do you think is the main reason for this?
I think this has a lot to do with authenticity, the interesting story we have to tell and the strong belief in our product – we put a great deal into this project, both emotionally and financially. As I had never launched a hotel before, I ensured that I hired talented people to assist in making it work.
4. How would you define the style of the hotel?
Scandinavian minimalism with a strong link to modern Icelandic design and nature.
5. What is it about this part of Iceland that you love the most?
Definitely the landscape and nature. Even though I was born here, I’m still fascinated about the lava, moss landscape around ION. I still feel amazed when I see the Northern Lights dancing in the sky on one of my late returns from work. Even though you have experienced it several times before it is different when you are outside of the city, it´s much more intense. I also thrive from the energy; I find immense power in the Icelandic nature. Hence the reason we chose ION for the hotel´s name.
6. What are your biggest passions in life?
Fashion, design and healthy food play a huge part in my interests and life, but outdoor sports and nature is probably number one. I’m a very passionate and active person. I really need to have my plate full of interesting projects and tasks to tackle every day. When I need to relax, I go fly fishing in one of our rivers. When I need to boost my energy I go cycling, attend a yoga class or go skiing. My husband shares the same passions and we tend to link our vacations with hiking, skiing or cycling. We did a ski day tour from Chamonix to Zermatt (the Haute Route), which took six days without phone connection or internet – that was very rejuvenating.
7. Your career prior to this was in the airline industry. What skills and experience did you learn then that helped you to create such a hotel?
Well the airline business is very regulated and my work was to ensure proper training standards, preparation of foreign outstations and management of multinational team, so this taught me a lot. I worked for Air Atlanta Icelandic, but they are in so called ACMI business where the aircrafts are rented and leased to third party. I was responsible for training and management of 5,500 cabin crew from 49 nationalities, when we were the largest in 2007. This helped me to understand people’s values and cultural difference and also how to build a strong team around me. I have a Bachelor degree in Business and a diploma in Human Resources and I think you definitely need good financial management understanding when running a hotel, it´s the little things that count. The daily running of the company has to be very structured.
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