Tourism in Iceland has boomed in recent years. It saved our country from financial ruin, but at what cost? Millions of visitors come to Iceland seeking adventure through exploring our national parks, tasting our Nordic cuisine, and savoring our local beers. We all know the benefits that tourism affords, however sometimes our good fortune can come at a cost. Let’s explore the pros and cons of tourism in Iceland.
The Pros – It’s Not All Bad
First, I need to issue a disclaimer: the first paragraph may seem all doom and gloom, but the effects of tourism can be fantastic. The most common benefits are felt through economic prosperity. Money. Moolah. Our fish friendly currency. It is great. Who doesn’t like to have a little spare change in their pocket? Due to our position as a hot spot for jet-setters, inquisitive travelers, and Icelandic hot dog hunters, we have become a top travel destination in the world.
Not only do we feel the benefits in our wallets, but we also see the other positive changes taking place in real time. Shops, stores, and restaurants are buzzing with new, curious customers throughout the entire high season and into the fall and winter. The housing market is thriving due to an increasing influx of visitors that come annually. They aren’t just visiting in small numbers either. Exponentially more foreigners are coming every year and it doesn’t look like it is ending any time soon.
Iceland doesn’t solely survive off of our yearly guests. Traditionally we have sustained our economy through fisheries and aluminum smelting. However, tourism definitely gives our economy a shot in the arm, especially every year during the high season. With more money going into communities, it, in turn, makes its way to the people. Which will only benefit us in the long run.
The Cons of Tourism in Iceland
Tourism isn’t all sunshine and daisies. Heck, I wish it were. But, with the good always comes the bad. Just like how hot dogs here in Iceland always come with pylsusinnep (see below). There are some very alarming trends associated with rampant tourism. That threat comes in the form of overtourism. Simply put, overtourism is a phenomenon that occurs when too many people visit one specific location over a given time. Reykjavik is the perfect example of overtourism.
Since our capital, Reykjavik, is the most frequented city in all of Iceland it is currently struggling with some of the effects of overtourism. The most glaring effect has been the purchasing of property from those outside of Iceland. This presents an issue because having foreigners looking to buy property in Iceland helps our economy, it can make it more difficult for Icelanders to live in specific areas. Then there are the waves of tourists.
Don’t get me wrong: we love you. We adore you. We would never say anything to hurt you. But, by welcoming more and more of you with open arms, there is the possibility (not now, but in the future. Relax. Deep breaths. don’t cancel your flight.) that it could cause significant strain on our infrastructure. The biggest threat from overtourism though is directly related to the environment.
Cons of Tourism in Iceland
Overtourism inherently means you are inundated with travelers and visitors. Generally, they only stay for a short time, and usually when the weather is the most agreeable. By having the majority of tourists visiting Iceland in such a small window it poses a massive threat to the environment.
People come to Iceland, more than anything, to experience the land around us. It is untainted, whimsical, and diverse. If you bring in exponentially more outsiders into these environments, there is a high chance that they litter, disrespect the environment, or cause unwanted stress on it. A fan favorite for the uninformed first-time traveler is to drive on restricted lava fields. By driving on these fields, you can permanently ruin the very fragile ecosystem that exists here. The likelihood of events like these taking place skyrockets when more people are introduced into the environment.
If you are visiting and wish to curb overtourism, then try to come in the offseason. Travelers to our Nordic sanctuary usually try to come during the summer, but I would recommend arriving at the beginning of Iceland’s offseason. There are fewer tourists, the Northern Lights begin, and you get a much more authentic Icelandic experience.
Pros and Cons of Tourism in Iceland
Alright. Sheesh. Overtourism is scary. Here’s the honest truth (in my opinion): I think tourism is excellent. For many reasons. But, I think it was Spiderman’s Uncle who once wisely said, “What the heck is an Icelandic hot dog, and what in tarnation is pylsusinnep?!”. Just kidding, that’s not what he said (By the way, pylsusinnep is like mustard. If you have never had it, fly here just to try it.) What he actually said was, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
For me, tourism is power. It has proven its great power by re-energizing our entire economy. But, with the threats like overtourism looming on the horizon we need to be diligent. Tourists need to remain mindful of the things they can do to curb overtourism to help Iceland. And Icelanders need to be wary of unbridled power in the form of tourism.