Iceland Mag

5 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag

Politics

From the editor: Proposed "nature passport" is costly and stupid

By Jón Kaldal

  • Dettifoss waterfall No, we should not need do buy a special passport to experience this wonder of nature. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

Editor’s note: The new issue of Iceland Magazine's print issue is out and ready to pick up if you are in Iceland or read in a digital format online (see link below). Here is my column from the new issue.

 

The minister of industry and commerce, Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir, is promoting legislation that would require both Icelanders and visitors from abroad to purchase a special “nature passport” if they want to travel in the central highlands or visit Iceland’s national parks. This is a terrible idea.

Jón Kaldal.jpg

Jón Kaldal Photo/Ernir Eyjólfsson

For the last several years, annual tourist arrivals to Iceland have risen steadily with a year-on-year growth of over 20 percent. There will be more than one million tourists this year, which is more than triple the whole population of Iceland. This added traffic has put pressure on some of Iceland’s most popular travel sites, as well as those in isolated areas where the preservation of the natural environment is more difficult but still essential. The government has been fairly criticized for not responding by providing adequate facilities.

The minister’s scheme is intended to raise money for such tourism-related projects and possibly for general infrastructure programs in the country. Both domains certainly need and deserve better focus and funds from the government.

So what’s not to like? First, the right to travel freely around the country has been protected by Icelandic law for centuries. If you travel on foot and do not leave any marks behind, your right in most instances is superior to the right of the owner of the land. This right stretches all the way back to a 13th-century law book called Járnsíða (Ironside). New laws and codes on the environment are in part based on this ancient document.

So, the minister is facing an acrimonious fight to get Icelanders to relinquish what many consider a sacred birthright. Former finance minister, now parliamentarian and a member of the opposition, Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, has already stated that he would rather go to jail than pay for being in Iceland’s wilderness.

Second, this will create a new level of bureaucracy and cost.

But the Icelandic Travel Industry Association has already suggested a sensible solution. Simply raise the existing lodging occupancy tax. This would provide a major source of revenue that could be allocated entirely to tourism-related projects. An arrival tax could also do the trick.

Hopefully the minister will come to her senses. Can you imagine an army of “nature passport” inspectors hunting for freeloaders in the central highlands?

Yes, total madness.

From the print issue.

Related content

Editor's Picks