In the first 6 months of 2014, 402.000 tourists came through Keflavík airport, 90.000 more than in the same period last year.
While this is good news, the Director General of the Icelandic Tourist Board, Ólöf Ýrr Atladóttir, told RÚV yesterday that it there were reasons for cautious optimism.
“I think that there has been too rapid an increase in tourists,” said Ólöf Ýrr. “I don’t think we’ve been able to meet the demands of this increase. I think it would be better for us to avoid our future guests being put off from visiting us and in order to avoid that and avoid bad reviews it would be better if this increase [in visitors] had been a little smaller. That way we could build ourselves up, get an overview of and a strategy for the future protection of our nature. We could manage to examine more closely the tourism sector, not just the hotel rooms but the careers, the education of people in the industry which is extremely important.”
Ólöf also said measures needed to be made to avoid a tourism bubble and to sustain the industry for the long haul.
Currently the Icelandic Tourist Board and the Icelandic Tourism Research Centre are investigating whether tourists feel that too many other travellers at natural tourist sites such as Gullfoss for example, spoils the experience for them.
“We have to realise that we can’t just build up natural sites endlessly, we can’t just endlessly receive more and more people at any particular tourist site and live under the assumption that we are offering the type of experience that people have paid for,” said Ólöf Ýrr.
Ólöf has in the past recommended imposing limits on how many tourists should be present at a natural tourist site at any given time and that a conversation needs to be had which concludes at what point a tourist site reaches full capacity without ruining the tourist’s experience of the Icelandic countryside.
“Perhaps we should think about a reservation system, where people schedule a time to see a natural site like they do in the Grand Canyon,” said Ólöf Ýrr. “It’s not applicable to the whole of the Grand Canyon but of select sites where people book ahead of time.”
Last year, tourism was one of the most important sectors in Iceland, both financially and from an employment perspective.
“We shouldn’t forget that the tourism industry has had an incredibly positive [effect on Iceland] and is an incredibly positive part of our society and economy. The travel industry is bringing in a lot of money,” said Ólöf Ýrr. “It’s creating jobs across the country and we shouldn’t talk down the importance of the travel industry… we just need to face the fact that there is a lot of work still to be done.”