I always thought it was common sense – Respect the world we live in. When you go camping, when you go hiking, when you are anywhere in nature, always leave it the same way it was when you arrived. Don’t leave garbage, don’t walk off the path, and respect the areas that are closed off so nature can regenerate itself. The same thing applies when we travel, but unfortunately not everyone is aware of the impact they can have on our planet. In university I looked at the impact of tourism, and mass tourism, and debated the pros and cons. High traffic tourist areas can be destroyed if they are not taken care of, but at the same time, tourism opens our eyes, and teaches us about history, culture and the world around us. As someone who ended up traveling more than most, I obviously believe the pros outweigh the cons.
I have been places with hundreds of thousands of tourists, and very remote locations where you wouldn’t come across a tourist for days. On one of my recent trips to Iceland, it really hit me about the impact that tourism can have on a country. Talk to anyone in Iceland, and they will tell you that tourism has grown exponentially in recent years. The locals in Reykjavik told me that if I wanted to go somewhere away from the tourists, I should have been there 5 years ago.
But, Iceland has encouraged tourism. The promotions from IcelandAir are bringing people into the country much faster than other areas. It is interesting to see how the country has adapted to having a growth in tourism, but I’m not sure if they were fully prepared for this rapid influx of tourists in recent years.
The people who live in Iceland grew up respecting the beauty of their country and I think they may have underestimated how tourists would act. Not to give tourists a bad reputation – there are a select few who ruin it for everyone! Reading through local magazines I saw many stories about tourists leaving their mark on the land because they don’t pick up after themselves. The interesting thing is, these articles weren’t people complaining about the tourists, they were about raising awareness about the problem and trying to find ways to solve it.
Iceland can be dangerous and everyone wants you to stay safe
Iceland is one of those places where you could get yourself into trouble traveling in a remote area with little backcountry experience. I made sure that I had qualified guides with me when I went out into the beautiful outskirts of the country.
The country is very advanced in terms of keeping you safe. They have a tech-savvy system set up for volcano warnings. If a volcano is showing signs of eruption, a text message is sent to every cell phone in the area (national and international) to warn you to get out fast.
Tour guides are genuinely concerned for tourists and understand that the rules are in place for a reason. In my short time in Iceland, I had a guide take me onto a glacier. She was very clear that there are real dangers on the glacier – you could unknowingly slip into a deep crevasse and be gone hundreds of metres into the abyss. When she saw tourists who had left their guide she expressed real concern for their safety. She encouraged them to stick with their guide and kept a close eye out to make sure they were staying safe after they ignored her advice. She was visibly distracted that they were walking alone on the glacier.
On another tour, my guide saw a vehicle driving off the road, heading toward a mining site. When driving off-road you are not allowed to drive off of marked tracks. This is for many reasons, but mainly because it is simply unsafe. Again, my guide was concerned for their safety and he phoned the police to have them track down this vehicle to ensure these tourists stayed safe.
We need to ensure that our actions as tourists do not impact the very sights we are seeing, so that they are still as beautiful for future generations as they are today. I think it will be interesting to see how Iceland continues to balance maintaining the natural, rugged landscapes they are known for while encouraging more tourists to visit. From what I can tell, if anywhere can succeed at this, it will be Iceland!