Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Iceland Invaders: Coping with the numbers

Iceland Invaders: Coping with the numbers
05 Aug
2017
An increase in visitors is putting severe strain on Iceland’s ability to cope

It’s been called the Game of Thrones effect. This year, Iceland expects to host 2.4 million tourists, most searching for the landscapes of ice and fire that served as backdrops for the universally successful TV series. However, such record-breaking numbers are taking a toll on the island’s culture and protected landmarks.

This year, the Skógafoss waterfall was added to the Environmental Agency of Iceland’s ‘red list’ of endangered sites. The landmark’s proximity to the capital and only highway mean that its walkways and grass areas are being trampled to mud, threatening the ecological integrity.

It’s not alone – the waterfall joins six other popular but sensitive areas, including the eutrophic lake of Mývatn and the hot springs of Geysir. A new addition to the ‘orange list’ – areas in potential danger – is Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Previously, these natural attractions received most visitors during the summer months. However, the tourist season has now extended to the winter and with this level of year-round visitor pressure, even the mightiest are falling.

While Iceland embraced tourism after the crippling depression of 2008, there are indicators that the island has reached a tipping point. Locals are weary of visitors’ disregard for protective fencing, their ‘you-only-live-once’ attitude towards dangerous beaches, and the rise in forbidden off-road driving. The number of tourists has exploded by more than 1,000 per cent in 20 years to numbers that far exceed the Icelandic population of 340,000. Because most visitors stay in the capital of Reykjavik (pictured right), the lucrative holiday rental market is pricing Icelanders out of homes.

The island is now considering caps to limit visitors to small sites, while encouraging them to seek out under-visited sites in the northeast. ‘The mass concentration in the southwest corner is the challenge,’ says Professor Edward Huijbens of the Icelandic Tourism Research Centre. For him, the main thing that needs to be done is to ‘mend a disarticulated transport system. There is no obvious public transport link, no domestic flights and no rail connection.’ A more preventative measure is the increase in tax being added to tourist ventures, from the current 11 per cent up to 21 per cent, as of July 2018.

This was published in the August 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

LATEST STORIES

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Natural Capital: Putting a price on nature
    Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of the world that nature provides for us – the air, soils, water, even recreational activity. Advocat...
    The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Water

Glacial melt is increasing  land instability in mountainous regions, with huge tsunamis…

Mapping

A large-scale terrain mapping project makes Antarctica the best-mapped continent…

Water

New research reveals that microplastics can survive in mosquitos from…

Cities

New research measures the ability of major cities to re-use…

Deserts

Biosphere 2 was one of the most ambitious experiments in…

Forests

High-quality, affordable drones can revolutionise the way that landscape and…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig charts the impact of volcanoes on nearby human…

Mapping

A volunteer-led digital mapping project is at the heart of…

Cities

As the planet urbanises, attention is turning towards the most…

Forests

Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many…

Cities

A rising number of cruise ships and their ‘overlooked’ diesel…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig charts the growth and impact of the world’s…

Deserts

Long-term studies reveal the Sahara desert has expanded substantially over…

Water

South America’s wealthiest economy is at a crossroads between environmental…

Forests

The European Court of Justice finds the logging of a…

Mountains

In this extract from his new book, Tides, mountain climber…

Cities

New data from the World Health Organization reveals that nine…

Water

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan,…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig maps out the global production and distribution levels…