Iceland’s environment has a definite essence of purity. The water tastes fresh and the air feels pure. This may just be psychological, but the country’s natural qualities are definitely what makes it unique.
Whilst on my travels, just taking in the beauty of their countryside got me thinking about the long term prospects for this country if tourism continues to rise as it does. The importance of Icelandic communities planning for the sustainable growth of their tourism has been recognised by academics and is considered vital, given the fragile nature of their environment(Olafstdottir and Runnstrom, 2009), but are they doing enough?
“Nature is the main asset for tourism in Iceland as over 80% of foreign visitors mention nature as the reason for visiting the country. At the same time, Icelandic nature is highly vulnerable to an increasing number of tourists, especially areas such as moss rich landscapes, geothermal areas and many areas in the highlands.”
(Icelandic Environment Association, 2017)
On the surface, they probably are. 90% of Iceland’s homes are heated with geothermal energy and they are world leaders in development of green technology (Iceland.is, 2017). It is even claimed that they get a lot of their tourism demand because of their ‘eco-friendly’ status (mynatour, 2017).
However, concerns have been raised by the Icelandic Environment Association as to the degradation of popular tourist areas such as parts of the Golden Circle, Goðafoss waterfall and Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which we visited on our trip. Although I didn’t personally notice any specific environmental damages caused by tourists in these destinations, the sheer quantity of visitors around these fragile sites did make you question their fate. The association are calling for more research to be conducted into the tourism’s effects on the environment and even suggest closing visitor sites whilst damaged nature recovers.
Furthermore, from my observations, I personally feel that their transport industry is a concern. The roads in the centre of Reykjavik are jam-packed with tourist coaches and hire cars and even the tour guide admitted that nearly everyone in Iceland owned a car as it was a necessity to get around the country. What did shock me was the lack of electric or hybrid vehicles. However, this is something that the country are claiming to tackle, as they set out to embrace renewable energy for vehicles and sustainable methods of transport (PR Newswire, 2017).
All this said, protecting their environment appears to be an important aspect of their development, with their ‘Green Growth Strategy’ developed in 2011 (Promote Iceland, 2011), so here’s to hoping Iceland can maintain its naturally beauty and still allow their tourism market to flourish at the same time.
Icelandic Environment Association. (2017). ‘Tourism’. Available at: http://landvernd.is/en/Main-topics/Tourism. Accessed 29th March 2017.
Iceland.is. (2017). ‘Clean Tech’. Available at: http://www.iceland.is/trade-invest/clean-tech. Accessed 29th March 2017.
Mynatour. (2011). ‘Iceland: a truly sustainable destination’. Available at: http://mynatour.org/destination/iceland-truly-sustainable-destination. Accessed 29th March 2017.
Olafstdottir, R. and Runnstrom, M. C. (2009). ‘A GIS Approach to Evaluating Ecological Sensitivity for Tourism Development in Fragile Environments. A Case Study from SE Iceland’. Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism. 9(1). pp. 22-38. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15022250902761504. Accessed 29th March 2017.
PR Newswire. (2017). ‘Iceland – Leading the World Towards a 100% Sustainable Energy Society’. Available at: http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/news-releases/iceland—leading-the-world-towards-a-100-sustainable-energy-society-153732705.html. Accessed 29th March 2017.