Last month, I visited Keflavík International Airport for the first time since their recent renovation. It’s nice that there are more shops, annoying that you are now forced to walk through duty-free, and shocking that all the signs are in English. At the food court signs read “drinks” not “drykkir”, “salad” not “salat”, and “pasta” not, well, “pasta.” But the point stands. It’s not just the airport either, all over town signs are increasingly written in English, presumably catering to tourists. None of this should surprise anyone who has navigated the sea of brightly coloured raincoats and white tennis sneakers flooding Laugavegur. Hell, even the tourists think there are too many tourists.
So how many tourists are there exactly?
In 2014, 1,369,183 passengers arrived at Keflavík International, 400,002 of whom were Icelandic (note: this number excludes tourists arriving by boat or ferry). The total, 969,181 tourists, sounds like a lot. Until you take into account France’s 83 million tourists. Working with data from the World Bank, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight wrote an article about countries where you are most surrounded by tourists. Regardless of exactly how many tourists visit a given country, the tourist to local ratio is what makes certain places feel overrun with foreigners. Silver uses the following formula to work this out:
So in Iceland last year:
And in France:
For comparison, it’s also interesting to look at a country with a very large population like China:
Or a very small one like Monaco:
By this logic, Andorra (78,360 residents and 2,238,000 tourists) has the highest tourist percentage with 96.6%, and Iceland is number 16 in the world for most tourists compared to population.
Does that number seem awfully high/low to you?
There are two data considerations to keep in mind when interpreting these numbers. First, this is assuming that tourists stay for the same length of time regardless of where they are. Situated on the border of Spain and France, Andorra is an ideal spot to stop for a night when travelling around Europe. However, for most international travellers Chinese destinations are so distant from their homes that they are likely stay for a longer amount of time. In order to account for this issue, Silver proposed a second formula:
With the help of Statistics Iceland, this number can be easily calculated:
However, many countries do not have access to this type of data, which makes it difficult to account for.
The second data consideration is tourist density. Of the 4,404,937 overnight stays by foreigners in 2014 nearly half of them were in the capital region. This is in comparison to the fact that France’s eighteen most visited tourist destinations are located in ten different cities.
The reason it feels like there are so many tourists, is because there are
It’s true, Iceland is chock-full of tourists, and with an estimated 1.17 million coming this year, it’s only going to get worse.
However, since tourism is officially Iceland’s biggest revenue generator, it’s probably best to frame it more as a giant economic boost rather than an epidemic.