Iceland, a small North Atlantic island of 335,000 inhabitants, has become the latest destination for travellers looking for stunning scenery. By the end of 2017, it had welcomed more than two million tourists in a single year.
Tourism has become the country’s main source of income, ahead of the fishing and aluminium industries, a fact that could well change the face of the country and its exuberant nature, a land of ice and fire.
Iceland can rely on its near-zero insecurity to position itself as a “safe haven”, far from the threats of violent attacks that affect the tourist market around the Mediterranean.
However, the tourism boom poses serious challenges to the country.
The road infrastructure cannot cope, hotels are saturated, the explosion of Airbnb has raised the price of housing in the capital to the detriment of city dwellers who now struggle to find affordable housing.
Young people who cannot find a place to live often leave the country and the generational gap is widening.
The authorities are struggling to ensure the establishment of the facilities tourists need.
Toilets, car parks, and signage are insufficient, and sites previously almost forgotten are now being stormed by busloads of tourists.
Faced with the steadily increasing influx of tourists, the Icelandic government is currently considering solutions that would allow the country to continue to benefit from the revenue generated by tourism while preserving its natural sites.
Strategies are being implemented to channel tourist flows, limit the number of visitors admitted year-round, and developing the most vulnerable sites.
These measures may reduce tourism pressure in a few specific locations, but also better control the environmental impact of what is now mass tourism.