The phenomenon known as “volcano tourism” is both a cause for concern—and to tour companies, an opportunity—that Iceland must contend with, a new research paper outlines.
In the paper, “Sublime encounters: Commodifying the experience of the geos”, conducted for the Royal Geographical Society, they examined the intersection of tourism and active volcanoes in numerous parts of the world, Iceland amongst them. Their analysis shows that international interest in active volcanoes can bring hazards, but also opportunity.
“Icelandic civil protection (Almannavarnir) have increasingly become concerned about the behaviour of tourists around active volcanoes, particularly during eruptions,” the abstract states in part. “However, this is also a considerable opportunity for tour groups.”
One notorious example of the intersection of endangering personal safety and profiting from tourist interest in volcanoes took place during the Hóluhraun eruption in 2014, when it was brought to light that a helicopter pilot for Reykjavík Helicopters flew Kazakhstani billionaire Goga Ashkenazi to the site on at least three occasions in September and October 2014. Numerous other tourists were intercepted by police trying to visit the site of the active eruption at the time as well.
“The felt need for these experiences can be traced back at least to the Enlightenment period, and denotes an example of affective commodification, as the sublime encounter between humans and raw energy of the earth is rendered valuable in monetary terms – and yet transcends commodification in a simple sense,” the abstract concludes.
Speaking to RÚV, Víðir Reynisson, the former head of Icelandic Civil Protection, looks at the matter not so much as a problem but a challenge. He emphasised that while people will always try to get too close to an active eruption, Civil Protection has well-organised coordination with the Coast Guard and the police to keep people safe from harm.
As always, the best spot for watching a volcanic eruption is from a live broadcast or recorded footage done by professionals.