Published August 16, 2013

Five thousand metres somewhere above Colorado, I was sitting on an Icelandair plane called Askja and it struck me that there was perhaps something strange about naming a fleet of airplanes after a bunch of volcanoes.
I probably would have chuckled had I been on the Eyjafjallajökull plane, but I wasn’t on that one and I couldn’t help thinking that it was somehow a bit gimmicky. I tried to imagine if The Volcanoes were some kind of Icelandic sports team and how ridiculous their mascot would look running around and cheering, “Áfram Ísland!” But I digress.

Icelandair’s decision was of course a deliberate one: “The names of Iceland’s volcanoes have close ties with the country’s heritage and history and inform foreign conceptions of it as the ever-volcanically active island in the North Atlantic,” their website states. “The names reflect Icelandair’s branding strategy to highlight what is distinctly Icelandic in an increasingly homogenised world.”

The number of foreign tourists visiting every year now outnumber locals two to one and as their number continues to grow it’s inevitable that our surroundings will change. The face of Reykjavík is certainly changing—not only temporarily each summer in the form of Gore-Tex clad visitors colouring our streets, but also more permanently as hotels and hostels move in to occupy places where cultural venues, for instance, once stood.

While this change is hard to swallow, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with hotels per se. I’m probably not the only local who now spends a fair amount of time hanging out at newly opened hotels and hostels like Marína, KEX and Loft, but the key is that these places appeal to locals as much as they appeal to tourists.

How many people want to live in a city that caters exclusively to tourists? The answer is probably the same number of people who want to visit a city that caters exclusively to tourists. A city that appeals to the local population is a city that appeals to tourists, too.

As a tourism magazine, we write stories about places we imagine tourists might like to visit, foods they might like to eat, and culture they might like to experience. But these aren’t special tourist things. These are the same places that we like to visit, the foods we like to eat, and the culture that we like to experience.

Do you really want to visit a city centre that has cleared out all of its culture to make room for your existence? Do you want to have Viking trinkets and stuffed animal puffins shoved down your throat as you walk down Reykjavík’s main drag? What are you going to do with “a bit of volcano” or “a piece of mountain” in a can?

With the number of tourists only expected to grow, we have to be careful not to cater exclusively to them. You don’t need a wild imagination to picture what kind of damage Iceland’s tourism industry could do to our county if it expanded too quickly and recklessly, if it grew even remotely close to how Iceland’s financial sector grew before the bubble burst.

As I reached for that grey Icelandair blanket embroidered with the words “Missing the hot springs? Warm yourself with this instead,” a chill ran down my spine.

Turn to page 24 to read this issue’s feature, “Hotels, Motels, Holiday Inns.” Also, turn to page 46 to read about volcanoes.

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