I just got back from a long 7-week trip to Iceland this summer, and I can’t help but have a question of conscience running through my head… is it a good idea to make my blog want to go to Iceland? Not that I was unhappy about this trip, but on the contrary, I loved it, but I rarely had the feeling of a country literally invaded by tourists. The Impression is all the stronger as the tourist peak in Iceland is fairly concentrated on July-August, the two months where the weather is the most mild… to put it mildly, is it reasonable to contribute, with my modest share, to this influx? Hard to say. These few sentiments won’t stop me from continuing to publish articles extolling the beauty of this destination, but here I am opening the debate: should we still go to Iceland?
An unprecedented tourism boom
Actually, it wasn’t my first trip to Iceland, it was my third. The first time was in 2006, there are already ten years old. The landscapes haven’t changed since then, but I didn’t recognize the country. Or rather: it is its general atmosphere that has changed. In 2016, I felt like I was traveling in a large amusement park for tourists. Some figures are enough to summarize the situation: in 2006, 400,000 foreign tourists had visited the country. In 2016, the forecast is 1.7 million! For a small country of only 330,000 inhabitants, the difference is colossal.
The tourist boom in Iceland dates back to 2010. Affected by a severe financial crisis in 2008, the country has relied heavily on this sector to ensure its economic rebirth. The national airline Icelandair has transformed Keflavik Airport into an international hub connecting North America and Europe and many low-cost airlines such as Easyjet, Wow Air or Transavia have invested in the market. The results of growth have been beyond all expectations: in 5 years, the number of tourists has jumped by 264%, or an average increase of over 20% per year. Tourism is now Iceland’s largest economic activity, followed by fishing and aluminium production, and accounts for 31% of the country’s financial income. This sector has saved Iceland from bankruptcy, but now the country has to face new challenges…
Saturated tourist infrastructure
This is the observation we come up against when we travel the summer in Iceland independently without having organized our trip in advance. Hotels are overpriced and full if you don’t have a reservation. By way of example, for a room in the centre of Reykjavik in July-August, it costs 150-200 euros, and for a bed in a dormitory 50 euros. The prices are the same in all the southern part of the country, the most touristic. You can find cheaper accommodation in the East, the North or the West, but no big difference either. For small budgets, the only solution is camping (from 10 to 15 euros per night per person), but here again, it is the guaranteed traffic jam. The tents are so close together that you can hear the conversations of all your neighbours -and the snoring, too-and you have to stand in line to shower or cook in the kitchen (when there is one). On the big tourist sites, especially on the “Golden circle” around Reykjavik and on the southern coast of the country, there are a lot of people, and it can be difficult to find your way among the selfie poles.…
Rising cost of living
This is, in fact, the main concern of the people of Iceland in the face of this tourist boom. Most of them remain welcoming and friendly towards tourists, but in their daily lives they have to cope with the resulting increase in prices, especially when it comes to gas, accommodation or restaurants. As in many major cities around the world, The Rise of Airbnb in Reykjavik has increased rents and driven people out of the suburbs.