Iceland Mag

9 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag

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Tourism’s social influence: Are we Icelanders likely to pick up any new bad habits?

By Jón Kaldal

  • Welcome! Tourism is the single most important factor in Iceland bouncing back relatively fast from its banking Armageddon, which left the nation on its knees in 2008. 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. Here is my column from the new issue.

Jón Kaldal.jpg

Jón Kaldal

Unlike the economic and environmental effects of tourism, the cultural and social impact on the nation has been strangely absent from the discussion in Iceland.

The impact of tourism has been fast and dramatic. In about half a decade, the number of visitors has roughly doubled, from 600.000 in 2010 to a forecasted 1.2 million this year.

The economic influence has been rightly celebrated. Tourism is the single most important factor in Iceland bouncing back relatively fast from its banking Armageddon, which left the nation on its knees in 2008.

The environmental part has raised some concerns, mostly because the government has reacted very slowly to the added pressure on the country’s infrastructure

But tourism’s social influence has hardly been discussed at all. There is one exception, and that one is quite controversial. Tour companies keep running buses and vans in and out of the narrow streets of Reykjavík’s densely populated downtown area. This has stirred up immense frustration among the locals, with buses blocking streets and bike paths, and generally slowing down traffic.

The funny thing is, while this has been labeled “a tourist problem,” it has in fact nothing to do with our visitors from abroad. The culprits are the Icelandic bus drivers, who, like the rest of the nation, are not very considerate while behind the wheel of a car.

Downtown’s bus conflict has now reached a tipping point, and city officials must team up with the bus companies and the police to sort out the mess.

But regarding the social impact of tourism, we Icelanders are not likely to pick up any new bad habits from the hordes of visitors. We are already famous for our love of late-night revelry, promiscuity, and lack of discipline (when it comes to forming an orderly queue, as can be seen outside bars and clubs on weekends!)—to name just a few things that blight our behavior in general.

Maybe you, dear visitor, can help us to improve?

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