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On formulating a strategy for Icelandic tourism

These days RÚV is running a series of debates with the political parties in the running for the upcoming elections. Each debate focuses on a theme, and last night the theme was was natural resources and environmental issues.

Geysir IcelandIt may come as a surprise to some people that tourism falls under this category – although it makes perfect sense when you think about it, since Icelanders consider their nature a natural resource. It is primarily what tourists come to see, and therefore it generates revenue.

No doubt anyone who follows this blog [or its Facebook counterpart] will know that tourism in Iceland has increased vastly in the last few years, and most people believe it won’t be long before one million visitors a year come to visit our fair country. The number is currently around 600,000 a year – twice the population.

Obviously this great influx of tourists calls for a strategic response on the part of the Icelandic authorities, since our nature is extremely delicate and needs to be protected. Moreover, it calls for improvements in services and infrastructure … obviously, since many places don’t even have basic amenities such as toilets, or if they do have them, there aren’t enough of them.

The question, of course, is how to fund all this, and how to manage this vast increase in tourism.

I believe this is the only issue I have heard of so far in this election campaign in which all parties are more or less in agreement. All feel that Iceland needs to start collecting fees from visitors, that will be used to improve facilities and services.

The parties differ, however, in their approaches. There are a number of ideas floating around. Some propose to collect fees at the individual tourists sites. Say, paying for entry to the Geysir area. Others lean towards creating so-called “nature passports” that tourists would have to buy if they wish to travel freely and visit various sites. The price would be somewhere in the range of ten euros. Still others proposed a tax on airline tickets – a suggestion that was pretty much quashed immediately.

The discussion also veered off into ideas of how to divert tourism from the high-traffic sites like the Golden Circle or Landmannalaugar, and finding ways to show people around the other myriad natural gems that we have here. The problem with those is frequently how to access them, however. The fees collected would, in that instance, be used to improve infrastructure, to allow tour buses and suchlike to get to those places.

Whatever gets decided in the end, one thing is sure: Iceland will very soon cease to be a place where you can get away from everything and be, for all intents and purposes, alone in the world. That is if it hasn’t got to that point already.

Oh, and incidentally, I believe all parties agreed that the infamous “accommodation tax” that was implemented last year needs to be scrapped asap.

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