Iceland has rapidly gained popularity among tourists. Statistics show that about 2.3 million people came to visit Iceland last year. This means there were almost 7 times more tourists than locals as the island is inhabited by just 334,000 people. The raw beauty of this country and unique landscapes are definitely a magnet attracting tourists from all over the world. The natural wonders found here make Iceland a top tourism destination.
This has not always been the case. Not long ago, most travelers did not include Iceland on their travel list. It was really hard to find Iceland on the top of any travel ranking lists. Slowly and consistently, Iceland became one of the most popular destinations in the industry. The growing number of tourists brings many benefits to the country, but it also has catastrophic consequences for the environment. Will the land of ice and fire eventually stem the flow of tourists coming into the country?
Iceland’s growth as a tourism destination is an absolute success. In the past, Iceland’s economy depended mainly on the fishing industry and agriculture. The country then transformed itself into a rich and a modern nation. This economic growth was definitely good for Iceland, allowing its development within the global market.
Iceland had to adapt itself to the new needs of tourists. The first step was to renew the country’s infrastructure. New hotels, restaurants and tourist agencies sprang up. These significantly reduced the unemployment rate. New job vacancies were then available for both Icelanders and foreigners. Many people from different countries went to Iceland not only as a tourist but also to work. Most of those workers ended up in the tourism industry. Iceland’s days under the radar are long gone and the country is now a favorite tourist destination.
As Thordis Kolbrun Reykfjord Gylfadorrir, Iceland’s Tourism Minister said:
“We must be careful not to fall a victim to our own success. Some of the particularly popular corners of the country are simply unable to accommodate over a million people and this is the number of tourists visiting us now. If we allow these places to be visited by more people, they will be trampled on”.
There are some regions in Iceland that are deteriorating due to the number of visits every year. Among those in decline are Skogafoss waterfall, the Geothermal region of Geysir, Dyrholaey Penninsula, Gullfoss waterfall. They even had to close the Reykjadular trail because of worsening conditions. The list of damaged areas is, sadly, much longer than that.
So what’s causing the problem? Icelandic vegetation is extremely fragile and takes a long time to recover from people trampling on it. Most experts believe that Iceland should develop better methods to prevent further degradation of the environment. Close to most tourist attractions, there is a lack of adequate infrastructure.
Monitoring activities are rare and there are no specific ways to protect the flora and fauna of Iceland. Many paths are not signed properly. The lack of “no entry” signs to many roads is a common problem. Therefore, many tourists ignore the “no crossing” line made out of just a bunch of little stones and directly deviate from the path. The number of staff working at the main attractions is way too low in comparison to the number of tourists visiting them every day. Therefore, controlling these places is basically impossible. The government is constantly working to establish some new procedures to help to maintain the areas in the same untouched condition.
Iceland’s Growth as a Tourism Destination
Everything has its advantages and disadvantages. Tourism growth in Iceland is not an exception here. It has been a blessing for Iceland but also a great threat to nature. Tourism in Iceland has become the main source of income for the country. This is why Iceland is now facing a difficult task – to find the balance between making a living and protecting the environment. Let’s hope people can still visit Iceland while it the country retains its beauty and extraordinary character.