Iceland, “so hot right now” is the tourism joke that never gets old, partly because Iceland’s appeal is now eternal. Virtually any snap shared to social media sends people into trip planning mode.
When you’re a relatively small island nation with under 400,000 residents though, that popularity doesn’t come without its own challenges. And that’s precisely why Iceland is looking to attract a different kind of tourist than many of those who’ve flocked there in recent years.
Iceland now seeks to cool its mass tourism trends by encouraging fewer people to take longer trips, and to make very conscious environmental decisions during those trips.
Iceland Seeks New Tourists
Iceland’s airlines have been famous for promoting the Iceland “stopover” which allows passengers flying between the US and Europe to add a few days in Iceland for no extra airfare. These opportunities, and a number of flights launched by US and European air carriers have lead to huge tourism growth.
But why do people visit Iceland?
It’s generally not for the concerts or the shopping, but for the unparalleled natural resources and beauty the country offers. If the Blue Lagoon was to become a brown lagoon, or the Ring Road an unremarkable stretch of dirty highway, would people still come?
To protect its natural draw, Iceland now wants to encourage higher end, “slow” tourism, where people stay for longer and leave as little behind as possible. Of course, that typically means spending more too.
Tourism only exists in harmony when locals and resources aren’t negatively impacted, and the more money tourism brings in, the easier it is to justify. Sometimes that’s done by sheer visitor numbers, but many countries are trying to prioritize tourists who stay longer and spend more. Eat local, stay local, you get the gist.
The country is now encouraging EV rentals for trekking, and also hoping people will get out and explore wider into the wilderness. By encouraging tourists to go beyond the “top 3 things” and to explore further afield, there’s less strain on high traffic areas.
Iceland’s head of tourism efforts recently told Euronews that it plans to push these efforts along with greater impact and visibility. The country has even rolled out live visitor number stats for each major tourism site, so that people can try to find off peak times or days, and therefore reduce the impact and create a better experience.
“We have counters of the most visited sites all around Iceland too, so when you visit you can see what days during the week the most visitors are there,”
“We have an ongoing campaign called the ‘Icelandic Pledge’ where we are encouraging visitors to travel responsibly around Iceland. We created eight guidelines that people can read, just to remind them that nature in Iceland is very fragile.”Dögg Guðmundsdóttir.
A Tourism Trend Here To Stay
Iceland is hardly the only country or area looking at getting more out of tourism, with fewer people involved.
Venice, in Italy, was among the first to “tax” day trip visitors in an attempt to create overnight and longer stay guests. Many island nations, including the Bahamas have also weighed the costs and benefits of subsidizing travel businesses like cruises.
New Zealand has also added substantial visitor fees which purport to immediately invest in protecting the natural resources of the country. If you’re thinking of visiting Iceland, expect constant reminders that tourism comes at a cost — and that you might as well stay a while and make the most of it.