Tourist Business Unhappy With Civic Protection - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Tourist Business Unhappy With Civic Protection

Published February 27, 2015

Photos by
Axel Sigurðarson

While Civic Protection in Iceland has been diligent about protecting Icelanders and tourists alike from the dangers of the Holuhraun eruption, not everyone has been happy with their efforts. Namely, some tourism entrepreneurs that Stundin spoke to believe they were denied the opportunity to profit from the lava flow.

“This is nothing,” said Yngvi Ragnar Kristjánsson, who operates tourism company Mývatn ehf., in describing the eruption itself. “To go on a trip up there is incredible in itself, because of the landscape of the Highlands, but the eruption is very small. The edges of the crater are so high that you can only see the glow of the lava.”

The best thing that could happen, he says, would be for the eruption to end, as then he could take tourists up to see the lava.

“It’s a question of what product we’re selling,” he said. “In reality, it’s impossible to sell tourists the volcano, because it’s not in our hands.”

Rúnar Óskarsson, who runs the tourism company Fjallasýn, took a stronger position on the matter.

“Six weeks in a row we were promised a new danger assessment [from Civic Protection],” he said. “[Civic Protection] are simply all-powerful. Now that we’ve gotten the green light to take people up there, the eruption is as good as finished.” Rúnar added that scientists have been able to go to the eruption site, accusing them of “wanting to have the volcano for themselves.”

This point of view is not news to Ágúst Gunnar Gylfason, a geologist and project manager at Civic Protection, but adds that business considerations are not a part of their agenda.

“Our role is to protect people, and we would rather err on the side of caution,” he said. He points out as well that the scientists who visit the site are better prepared to respond to unexpected dangers – such as shifting lava flow, floods or poisonous gas – than tour groups. They are also always accompanied by police, he says, who can evacuate the scientists if need be.

“The underlying principle [at Civic Protection] is that we do not want to accept any kind of death toll,” he said.

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