Our world is continually becoming more and more globalized, and Iceland is no exception. In fact, Iceland is reaping the benefits of globalization through tourism. Tourism in Iceland has exploded in recent years, with the number of annual foreign visitors having doubled in the last six years. But, this raises an important question, “Will we run out of hot dogs with all of these foreign invaders coming to our shores?!”. That was a joke, I was joking. The real question is, “Is the increase in tourism really the best thing for Iceland?”. Let us examine the pros and cons of tourism in Iceland.

Tourist hiker enjoy mountain views in Iceland


Pros of Tourism in Iceland 

The tourism boom in recent years came at an optimal time. Iceland was in dire straights after the economic collapse in 2008. Suddenly, our country was inundated with curious travelers who had heard about Iceland’s natural beauty. Money started flowing in, and the economy began to recover. This trend has continued steadily, thanks in large part to the continued growth of the tourism sector. And, as of now, the pros of our tourism boom have been welcomed.

Our capital, Reykjavik has reaped the lions share of the benefits of this boom. More and more visitors come each year and choose to stay in the capital. Restaurants, inns, and shops have all seen a massive increase in revenue with the influx of hungry, curious, and wealthy travelers. Not only has our economy benefited from these travelers, but people have come and learned more about our culture and history.

Icelandic culture has primarily been insular, in that, not many people (not as many, rather) have historically made the pilgrimage to our tiny island nation. We have a rich and robust history that spans back a thousand years. By having foreigners learn more about our history, we, in turn, learn more about the world. It is a symbiotic relationship. We have traditionally been a highly educated society, but there is no better way to grow than to gain an outside perspective. Friendly tourists give us an insight into their way of thinking, and they learn from us. By being so closely tied to nature, we are incredibly grounded and humble. This sharing of culture only helps us develop more and more.

Young man speaking to two young women on the streets of Reykjavik


The Cons of Tourism in Iceland

Every story has two sides to it, and while the benefits of tourism have been welcomed, they present some pressing challenges for our people moving forward. Any society that has relied solely on tourism has traditionally faced difficult obstacles moving forward. When foreign visitors and foreign money drive entire economies, things can become very tricky very quickly. Not only that, but we risk losing so much more than our economy.

One aspect that has been hit particularly hard by the tourism boom has been the outlying small villages and towns of Iceland. Due to the massive influx of money and opportunities coming into Reykjavik, residents from smaller towns and villages have found it more finically viable to pursue careers in tourism closer to the capital. This poses a threat to the unique culture that is cultivated in the countryside. Family is hugely important to us, and when money overtakes tradition those cultural values (especially the emphasis on the family unit) rapidly erode.

The biggest threat, to me, comes in the form of protecting our beautiful countryside. Tourists flock to Iceland in droves to experience the fantastic spectacle that is our naturally occurring, rare, unique geographical features. Our glaciers, forests, waterfalls, and lava fields have all had more outside visitors than any time in our storied history. While most tourists are respectful of our land, some are not. There are those who treat it like their personal playground. Litter poses a massive threat to both flora and fauna of Iceland. Not only that, but some visitors will gladly go into protected areas to take photos, while totally disregarding signage that warns of essential breeding grounds for local species or unstable surfaces which are dangerous.

Trash and plastic bottles on an Icelandic beach


Tourism Moving Forward 

When examining any situation, it is paramount to explore the negatives and positives. I often have this problem when enjoying food. What are the positives and negatives of enjoying lamb stew three times a week? The positives are that it is tasty and delicious and I am filled with warmth and happiness. The negatives are that one shouldn’t eat lamb stew three times a week year-round because they will more closely resemble a whale and not a human. Also, it is just not a good dietary practice. This is meant to be humorous, but there is some validity in applying it to the tourism question we are examining.

While tourism generates wealth and provides us with an outside perspective, it needs to be managed with moderation. If we became a tourism-driven economy and society we would undoubtedly reap financial benefits, but what would we lose? We lose our culture, our values, and most importantly the land that we hold so dear to our hearts. Treat tourism like lamb stew: it can be delicious and tasty, but you can’t have it for dinner every night. Moderation, as with all things in life, is critical. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

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