Iceland's either enjoying or suffering a huge boom in tourism, depending on your point of view. The two most prominent to differ at the moment are Birgitta Jonsdottir, leader of the anti-establishment Pirate Party and Inga Hlín Pálsdóttir, the director of Iceland's tourism promotion agency.
Since 2010, when Iceland drew publicity by blocking world air traffic with a volcanic eruption, tourism has been booming. The popularity of Game of Thrones hasn't hurt, and neither has a free stopover policy by the country's airline. The 2010 total of 459,000 visitors has jumped to 1.5 million this year.
According to Jonsdottir, “It’s like the city is not my city any more. It’s like Disneyland downtown,” she said. Her comments came after figures show that U.S. visitors alone, this year, will outnumber the entire population of Iceland. Of course, they won't all be there at once!
Palsdottir, on the other hand, sees the growth as positive: “This year the tourism industry will be bigger than the fishing and aluminium industries combined...We still want to encourage people to stay here longer, spend more and create a year-round industry."
Her goal is to get the tourists out of Rekyjavik, and off to see other parts of the country's towns and coasts and attractions. Since nearly all visitors arrive by air at the only international airport, located just outside Rekyjavik, that may be a tough job. Nonetheless, Palsdottir isn't worried: “All destinations have to peak at some point,” she said. “And we think we will slow down in the next few years to a sustainable level.”
Photo: DrFumblefinger's view of Godafoss waterfall, Northern Iceland (where Palsdottir would like more visitors to travel)