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Keeping Paradise

Magazine

Keeping Paradise

Iceland saw yet another record year in tourism in 2012 with close to 700,000 visits by foreign travelers, more than double the population of 320,000. According to forecasts, visitors could reach one million by 2016. Is it all good or too much to handle?

Published in the 2013 January-March issue of Iceland Review – IR 01.13. By Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Photos by Páll Stefánsson.

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Parad-ice Land, Volcanicland, Dreamland, Waterfall Land, Heavenland… This is what Iceland means to participants in the latest Promote Iceland tourism initiative. While some have taken the ‘Iceland by Another Name’ campaign too literally—Iceland won’t actually be renamed—these suggestions do reflect the country’s image quite clearly.

Where’s Waldo?

In a survey conducted by Market and Media Research for the Icelandic Tourist Board in 2011, 62 percent of foreign tourists cited nature as the reason for their visit. In 2011, 130,000 people visited Landmannalaugar, a highland paradise for its multicolor rhyolite mountains, vast lava fields and natural hot springs. However, 40 percent of those visitors remarked that the area was too crowded, as stated in a survey by Anna Dóra Sæþórsdóttir, associate professor in tourism studies at the University of Iceland.

“The limit has been reached; Landmannalaugar can hardly handle any more people. The facilities won’t allow for it and the aura of vastness and wilderness is gone,” comments Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources Svandís Svavarsdóttir. And the environment suffers, she adds. “The geothermal area cannot easily cope with mass tourism.” She also mentions offroad driving as a major problem.

The influx of tourists raises other concerns as well. MP for The Movement Þór Saari caused a fuss when expressing his views on the subject on national radio last October. “We who live in Iceland cannot enjoy what the country has to offer anymore, the majestic wild and untouched nature, because there are people everywhere,” he comments. “Coming to Landmannalaugar, which is spectacular, has turned into a miserable experience.”

Erna Hauksdóttir, director of the Iceland Travel Industry Association (SAF) points out that only some areas are overcrowded. “If you want to be by yourself, drive to the West or East Fjords, for example. If you visit the best known destinations, you’re bound to run into other people. Iceland is a big country; there’s enough room.”

You can read the remainder of the article in the 2013 January-March issue of Iceland Review – IR 01.13. Five times a year the print edition of Iceland Review & Atlantica brings you a wealth of articles on all aspects of life in Iceland including Páll Stefánsson's latest images of the country’s majestic landscape. Click here to subscribe and here to browse through a selection of pages from the current issue.