Iceland: Sorry, we’re full

Iceland is full up. That’s the word from everyone’s favourite North Atlantic island.

The country has become hugely popular in recent years. The problem? It may soon be too popular.

In 2015, a whopping 1.26 million tourists visited Iceland, almost four times the size of its normal population – not bad going for a cold, remote island known for being the backdrop of a violent, grim TV series. That show, of course, is Game of Thrones – and, just like Ireland, where HBO’s epic is also filmed, Iceland has enjoyed a strong boost from its starring role on-screen.

Iceland has also enjoyed a boost in profile from the 2010 eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which disrupted flights at the time, but has contributed to people flying to its shores since.

As a result, Iceland is struggling to keep up with demand – not least in terms of accommodation, with the Nordic Travel Agency reportedly concerned about hotel rooms being fully booked all year. That, in turn, impacts the amount of housing available to locals, as accommodation is rented to visitors. In the last year alone, the number or Airbnb rooms has surged 124 per cent, reports Citylab. with more than 100 flats now listed on Reykjavik’s main street.

All of that also means the country is changing, with once-desered glaciers, ravines and waterfalls now more likely to be home to many other holidaymakers, while parking spaces and other facilities are also under strain. The country’s economy, however, is enjoying the benefits of a booming tourism industry, especially in a post-recession world.

What will Iceland do? That is still up for debate, although some smaller towns are already introducing restrictions on tourist accommodations. One possibility is that visitor caps will limit access to the most prominent sites, in order to preserve their natural qualities, while another is a potential tourist tax to help recoup the funds needed to improve the island’s infrastructure. In the meantime, the tourists keep coming…


Photo: Victor Velez