a body of water with rocks and smoke with Blue Lagoon in the background

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.

a body of water with Blue Lagoon in the background

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.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. My wife and I travel a lot and Iceland is on our list, but when expensive places want to get more expensive or really don’t want tourists that’s my clue to find a different place. I’d rather go to a place that appreciates the money and effort needed to visit their country.

  2. Went to Iceland a few years ago and enjoyed it but at over £40.00 for 2 foot long subways and £12.00 for a bottle of bud. It’s a one of for us normal folks

  3. If they want “slow tourism” they first have to learn something about tourism. They are not prepared at all.

    I have not visited any other place in the world with a worst quality-price ratio. Rude waiters, road motels at price of 5 star resorts (and no other accommodation available near), companies that organize outdoor activities with guides without any kind of official training (not required there), trekking tracks without any kind of information available or signs to follow, forget standardized signs (European Ramblers’ Association what is that?)…

    The country is beautiful. Some of the landscapes are absolutely stunning. But they know absolutely nothing about tourism and they think that the solution to attract more quality tourism is to charge even more?

    Take your money and travel to much more stunning Patagonia or travel to also stunning Kyrgyzstan and go to Seychelles with the remaining budget are my two recommendations.

  4. I’ve been to Iceland several times and it is in my Top 5-planning a trip to the North Coast with some friends for April/May 2023.
    Booking tours is the way to go, and I had nothing but fantastic experiences with Grey Line there. One thing about Iceland, they’ll let you kill or main yourself if you insist…unlike most destinations, they don’t wall off the dangerous stuff. They TELL you what to do and what not to do (like trying to walk on the lava field formed from the latest volcanic eruptions-because if you break through, the lava underneath is 1500 degrees-but I still saw a couple of idiots do it), but they don’t spoil the beauty with heavy signage/fending/barricades, and I love them for that.
    And yes, it’s expensive. It’s an island nation with a climate that isn’t exactly conducive to growing a lot of things, so almost all fruit and veg is imported, as is all alcohol. IMHO it’s more than worth the cost, but YMMV and if you’re just going to complain, it’s probably not the right place for you.

    1. @Gem “…if you’re just going to complain, it’s probably not the right place for you”. Negative comments are many times observation not complaints; how dismissive. In your eyes it’s not the destination, it’s the visitors, right? Congratulations that you love Iceland, and you’ll probably have more space there now that they are going to make it harder and more expensive to even try it out. Add me to the ‘complainers’ I guess since I did a stop over and have to agree with the majority of the comments here that Iceland is over rated with very little value for a high cost. Mostly it’s just travel braggers and those that want an out of the box experience that they have been there that say love it IMO. That said, I would still have considered going back for a longer visit but not if it is going to be even more expensive and the tourism board is going to set my itinerary. Your tourism dollars will go much further somewhere else. The pictures always make it look better than it actually is. Also. I don’t think most people realize what the weather is really like there and how desolate most of it is.

  5. Hard to describe the PHEV / EV rental as anything more than a token policy.
    We were given a PHEV without any lead to plug in, and later checking the website this was an extra €10 / day, considerably more than the cost of fuel it could conceivably save.

    It’s difficult to see forward thinking policies undermined in this way… Hardly like bringing a 4kg charging cable from home should be a normal expectation

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