From Iceland — Our Own Worst Enemy

Our Own Worst Enemy

Published September 8, 2014

Our Own Worst Enemy

Greetings, readers! It’s time for another classic edition of “Someone Who Came Here As A Tourist Before Moving Here Tells You How You Should Really Be Running The Country!” Continuing this month’s theme: tourism!

You know what I think this country needs? More fences! And gates, with security guards and ticket takers around every beautiful natural site. And access passes! And pay toilets. And an army of inspectors rifling through tourists’ backpacks looking for hidden candy bars and measuring their cars’ petrol levels to make sure they’ll be buying enough while they’re here.

And also, I’m an idiot!

You may be getting the impression right now that I’m being facetious.

The reason people want to do something about the “tourism problem” is because people fear the country being turned from something they love into some kind of Arctic Disneyland. So why should we fight the problem by willingly doing it to ourselves?

Don’t like the fact that downtown is being transformed into a Hotel Metropolis? Don’t like seeing places like NASA and Faktorý torn down, or  watching housing in 101 Reykjavík disappear? Then elect people who won’t approve permits for hotels in 101.There’s no reason why hotels have to be concentrated in a place we don’t want them just because builders will pay the most for that land.

Don’t like private landowners turning natural treasures into profit centers? Then enforce the laws that require unrestricted access to our natural treasures.They can still make a profit just like everyone else, through tourism-related services (shops, restaurants, fuel, etc).

Want to be able to fund maintenance and facility construction at popular sites, and want the people responsible for causing those costs to pay for it? Then make a fund, levy taxes to support that fund, and choose your taxes based on what sort of people are causing the expenses (hotel taxes, port fees, etc). And if fewer tourists come because of it? That just makes the problem even easier.

Want to make sure money is distributed equitably rather than just to big landowners? Then let anyone apply for reimbursement, with documentation about how much their land is being used, what funding they need for maintenance or new facilities, etc. A committee can evaluate all requests and distribute funds appropriately.

No, I don’t want to live in a land where every last thing that looks pretty is fenced off. Where people are employed in jobs that accomplish nothing other than hindering people from seeing things or harassing tourists, when there are so many productive things that labour can do here. I love my country, my home, and I don’t want to see it become… well, “Not Iceland.”

Because, in the end, it’s not tourists who will ruin things for us. It’s we ourselves.

We don’t have to impersonate everyone else.

“But private landowners in America and mainland Europe regularly charge people to see natural wonders!” So?

“But our hotel taxes are already high compared to America and Europe.” So?

“But it’s common in America and Europe to charge people to use the restroom.” So?

“But it’s common in….” Look, I don’t care. Why do we have to pretend to be America or mainland Europe? Why can’t we just be Iceland? Regardless of what treaties or associations we join, we don’t have to pretend to be anyone else.

We need to make the country that we want to live in.

I’m not arguing from ignorance here. I myself am a landowner. Just a couple days ago I went out to work on a fence and found that someone had apparently camped on my land. It wasn’t so much that they had done it without my permission, or that they had flattened my grass for their tent. It wasn’t even the fact that they had littered, or burned half a square meter of grass to the ground with their campfire. No, what got me most was that they dug up a tree I had just planted and threw it aside to make the area I had cleared for it their fire pit.

Does that make me hate all tourists and want extreme enforcement against them all? No.

Just ignoring that I don’t know whether they were Icelanders or foreigners (and let’s not kid ourselves, Icelanders don’t always behave like angels), you reap what you sow. If I had to choose between tourists never using my land, or me getting to experience the beauty all across this country, is that even a contest? Of course I’d choose the latter.

And I truly believe most tourists are considerate and are not trying to ruin things for others, even if the occasional bad apple is out there. Plus, I’m a little flattered that tourists think enough of the beauty of my land to want to camp there—even I’m a bit angry at these particular tree-killers.  😉

In short? Let’s not ruin Iceland to save it.

Our Own Worst Enemy Karen Pease is a software developer who began seeking work and a residence permit after her experiences traveling around Iceland, finally succeeding and moving in early 2012. While her days are taken up providing support and development for air traffic control systems, her free time goes toward the music scene, hiking, forestry, and the early stages of building an eco-friendly earth home.

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