Iceland – the land of ice and fire - has undeniably experienced some major changes in the tourism sector in the past decade. Many people heard about the island for the first time, when volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010 and its ash cloud was shown on TV screens all over the world. Still, the majority of travelers became really curious, during the European Football Championship in 2016, and took a shine to the hitherto mostly unknown people of Iceland.
Now, almost a decade after Eyjafjallajökull erupted, people hear about the so-called overtourism in Iceland, a term that has been brought up by the media, but that doesn’t seem to describe reality appropriately.
While in 2017 roughly 2.2 million people from foreign countries visited Iceland, 243.8 million visitors were registered in the state of New York, in the same year. Keep in mind that the US state with its size of 141.300 square kilometers is not significantly bigger than Iceland, with 103.000 square kilometers, and most people there don’t feel like their home country is completely overrun by tourists. So before you start to think that you might not want to spend your next vacation in Iceland, because you expect hordes of other tourists everywhere you would like to go, let us stick to what’s true.
To give you some recent facts, as an Icelandic newspaper reports, fewer tourists came to the island in January this year, compared to January 2018. The decrease is said to be around 5.8%. Besides, the tourism growth brought major positive changes with it. The plateau at Gullfoss (which means “golden waterfall”), for example, has been extended, so that visitors have even more space to spread out and enjoy an amazing view of the waterfall.
Iceland also invested in new attractions like the Lava Centre in Hvolvöllur, a Lava Show and shopping center in Vík, boat tours on lake Fjallárlón, and 4-star hotels like Umi, Fosshotel Jökulsárlón and Austfirðir. In addition, many new restaurants opened that offer lots of delicious international dishes, and hotels are open now during winter, too.
Furthermore, many new toilet facilities were built near famous sights all over the country, like Seljalandsfoss or Fjaðrárglúfur, and Iceland invested in a better infrastructure and parking spaces.
There has been a tourism growth in the past decade, and yes, during the high season (from May to September), you can expect many people at the hotspots of Iceland, like the Geyser area, the Blue Lagoon, or the Golden Circle. But if you want to visit those places during your stay, we recommend going there in the mornings or evenings, so you can avoid running into bigger groups of people. Or why not book a self-drive tour around the island, and discover places on your own?
Generally speaking, Icelanders are positive about the tourism growth, because they know about its importance for the economy, and that at least one third of all jobs in the country depends on it. The island was surprised by the tourism boom starting a couple of years ago, but its people proved to be good hosts to all international visitors, and they present their home country with pride.
So let’s get this straight: tourists are welcome in Iceland, even if it might get very busy at the hotspots from time to time (like in many other countries as well). Iceland needs and welcomes tourists, though they should always keep in mind to respect the beautiful landscape of Iceland and its people.