David Kennedy: Iceland’s being pillaged by non-Vikings


OPINION: The Adventure Travel Trade Association recently announced its annual index of adventure travel destinations.

The index uses a range of indicators such as safety, entrepreneurship, cultural resources and country branding to rank 191 developed and undeveloped countries.

New Zealand took the bronze medal behind Iceland and Germany.

Germany’s placing has me a bit perplexed and will warrant more research, but Iceland by name and nature is exotic, so probably deserves the accolade.

I googled Icelandic tourism, just to see if they’d smuggled in some bungy cords or jetboats in order to pip us at the adventure post.

Instead I found a story of a tourism dilemma half a world away, that makes our current “boom” look like an incremental blip.

To give it a bit of comparative context here are some figures.

In area, Iceland is about two-thirds the size of the South Island, with a population of only 350,000 people.

In 2014, Iceland welcomed one million international visitors.

In 2017, this figure is expected to be three million.

Icelanders don’t really know what to make of this.

It was only six years ago the country was essentially bankrupt.

The growth in tourism has helped unemployment, which had tripled during the global financial crisis.

But the strain on the environment, and the lack of infrastructure, such as roads and hotels, is becoming a major concern.

Tourist driving on their rural roads is a major safety concern.

One-third of tourist accommodation in Reykjavik is Airbnb rooms, which people are concerned will create a property bubble.

Some Icelanders fear the crush of tourists will squeeze the culture out of their tiny island paradise.

There is talk of introducing visitor levies to pay for infrastructure and debates about capping the number of tourists.

One of the reports has a very Icelandic quote from the director general of their Tourism Board, Olof Atladottir.

It makes an interesting comparison between tourists and fish, formerly the biggest industry in Iceland.

“You go out and get your fish, then you come back.

“There’s someone in the factory that prepares the fish and then it’s sold.

“Then everyone goes home.

“The fish aren’t bothering you in the streets, asking you where the restaurants are – and aren’t using your buses or utilising a lot of public goods.

“They aren’t sitting in your swimming pools.

“The visitors are visitors and they’re not only visiting the country, they’re visiting you.”

It all sounds very familiar doesn’t it?

How to keep what you hold dear, but still share it enough to make a buck, while not ruining it for the great-grandchildren, to avoid them spitting on your grave.

I’ve heard those Nordic types are quite good at finding innovative solutions.

How else would they have cornered the world herring market?

I’m willing to wager they have a few practical ideas up their homespun jumper sleeves and, coincidentally, I’m available for a study tour.

David Kennedy is Ngai Tahu Tourism’s southern regional boss