Blessed by nature, and made famous by the popular TV hit series Game of Thrones, Iceland has become one of the world’s hottest countries. Tourists flock there in droves to enjoy road trips around its magic circle, to see its magnificent volcanic landscape, sulphur pools, lagoons, icebergs, waterfalls and its incredible Northern Lights. And this is despite being a notoriously expensive to visit.
This may sound like great news for any country but for Iceland being a tourist trap has become a threat to its beauty. Iceland’s government is now considering a tourist tax. The alternative would be to limit sightseers’ access to the country’s most popular spots.
“All of us have to be careful not to become victims of our own success,” Thordis Kolbrun Reykfjord Gylfadottir, Iceland’s tourism minister, said in a recent interview in Reykjavik.
She may have a good point. Visitors’ numbers have grown from 490,000 in 2010 to an estimated 2.3 million this year. To put that into perspective, Iceland’s population totals less than 340,000. In income terms the forecast for 2017 is 560 billion kronur ($5.1 billion), according to Islandsbanki, the country’s second-largest lender.
What’s the concern?
However, the concern is that the natural treasures may be destroyed by the sheer weight of tourism. Gylfadottir worries that overcrowding may ruin the experience for visitors and spoil natural treasures such as Thingvellir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon on the island’s southeastern coast.
The tourism minister warned “Some areas are simply unable to facilitate 1 million visitors every year. If we allow more people into areas like that, we’re losing what makes them special – unique pearls of nature that are a part of our image and of what we’re selling.”
If the tax hike goes ahead, it would increase the already hefty holiday money tourists would have to spend. According to Islandsbanki, hotel rooms are often a third more expensive than in other Nordic capitals and the cost of alcohol almost double than the EU average price.