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New research shows that growing numbers of foreign visitors feel that there are too many other foreign visitors in Iceland. A study prepared by the Ministry of Tourism shows that 30-55% of foreign visitors feel that popular sites are too crowded. The problem is greatest at the handful of most popular sites, especially the Golden Circle, while visitors at sites do not share the experience.
The report which was introduced in Parliament by the Minister of Industry and Tourism (pdf) argues that some of the most popular tourist destinations are under serious strain from growing tourism. The infrastructure, including parking lots, public lavatories and walking paths at sites in South Iceland, predate the onset of tourism, and cannot handle the numbers of visitors.
Several sites in South Iceland are identified as being under greatest threat from visitor numbers which have overwhelmed the local infrastructure, Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall on the Golden Circle, as well as three popular sites on the South Coast, Skógafoss waterfall, Dyrhólaey peninsula and Dverghamrar cliffs.
Locals in the area fear that the region will not be able to handle more visitors.The study found that 40% of locals in South Iceland feel that the region has reached the upper limit of visitors.
Negative impact on visitor experience
The stress on the sites has also begun to impact the experience of some visitors who express growing frustration that there are too many tourists at sites along the Golden Circle and sites on the South Coast. The study found that more than 50% of visitors at Gullfoss and Geysir feel that there are "too many tourists" at the sites. Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon in South East Iceland is not far behind, with 40% of foreign visitors feeling there are too many other visitors at the site.
It should be stressed, however, that the report also finds that an overwhelming majority of visitors feel that the overall experience in Iceland is overwhelmingly positive. Foreign visitors Iceland Magazine has talked to agree, arguing that crowding is only a problem at the handful of "must visit" spots in South Iceland.
Solutions: Avoid the crowded "must visit" spots
The report presents two main solutions to the problem. On the one hand the state needs to step in with investment in infrastructure, more nature rangers, better walking paths and instructions at the sites to protect nature. On the other hand the authorities and tourism industry must work together to divert some of the traffic away from the most visited spots.
Local guides and people in the tourism industry have similarly argued that perhaps the most important solution to this problem is to encourage people to visit a broader range of sites. The report sparked a debate on Icelandic social media, where some guides and others in the tourism industry pointed out that it was somewhat ironic that tourists who are visiting the most advertised spots included on all "Top 10 paces you must visit in Iceland" lists complain that others are doing the exact same thing.
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