Three times more tourists (1 million) than Iceland has residents (330,000) will visit the tiny island country in 2015. That’s a new record, one that is unsustainable according to Jenna Gottlieb today on Quartz. “In order to manage Iceland’s newfound popularity,” she reported, “some suggest the country may need to either cap the number of tourists allowed into its most popular destinations or else find a way to pay for better infrastructure and upkeep.”
It was reported here that at a 2013 ETC Transatlantic Conference, David Bahlman, Director of Destination Marketing for Orbitz Worldwide, said “Iceland may have to limit tourists because, if the huge numbers they are getting continue, the toll on the environment and the destinations will diminish the experience for everyone.” So it’s not as if they weren’t warned.
The predictions seem to have come true. Gottlieb’s article outlines a series of failed remediation by the government as it listed such appalling behavior by tourists as: public defecation, off-road driving, people camping and cooking in the airport, mountains of trash and trampling protected and restricted areas, all of which are illegal in Iceland.
Jónas Guðmundsson, project manager at Iceland Association for Search and Rescue (ICESAR) – a volunteer organization – specifically addressed the inherent dangers of inexperienced tourists failing to follow basic safety tenets. His comment was that “Last summer we assisted around 4,000 tourists . . . from accidents and getting lost to getting stuck in a river or mud. There is hardly a day without a call out somewhere in Iceland.” According to Gottlieb he added “Iceland needs to invest in roads, signs and education to avoid accidents.”
Tourism is big business. The 2013 ECT conference also revealed that Europe receives half a billion tourists a year. (Iceland is traditionally considered part of Europe.) As those numbers increase, all countries, not just Iceland, will have to make sure the infrastructure is in place to accommodate them, or “diminish the experience for everyone.”