Tourists are falling in Iceland



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After a growth that has had few equals in recent history, tourism in Iceland is giving some early signs of collapse. In less than ten years, visitors to the remote and sparsely populated Atlantic island have increased from 500,000 in 2010 to 2.3 million in 2018, more than quadruple; in May, however, visitors were 24 percent less than in the same period last year, he said Bloomberg. The company that runs the airport in Keflavik – which is the most important in the country – estimates that the drop in tourists could reach 17%.

These numbers are a bit surprising for a country that in recent years has become a sought-after destination for European and North American tourists, attracted by spectacular scenery, lunar environments and isolated settlements scattered throughout the island. But the sudden growth of tourists was as profitable as it was difficult for Icelanders: firstly, because of the difficulty of protecting a unique and precious ecosystem of a human presence they had never known, but also by the more practical problem of hosting. the many tourists. As anyone who has been there recently knows, finding a place to sleep in the high season in Iceland is often complicated even with several weeks in advance. And like almost everything on the island, prices are very high, sometimes almost prohibitive.

For years, however, visitors to the island continued to increase, with a peak of 40% in 2016 compared to the previous year, but still 5.5% in 2018 compared to 2017. Thousands of Icelanders had seized the opportunity of finding work in the tertiary sector, for example by opening a hostel or a tourist agency. In Reykjavik, the capital by which almost all the tourists who visit the country enter, hundreds of houses in the center have been transformed into lodges or Airbnb, with heavy consequences in the price of the rents.

It would be wrong to attribute the fall of tourism to a single cause: partly because to some extent this was physiological. As explained in Telegraph Kristjan Sigurjonsson, director of the Icelandic website touristsDespite the perceived decline this year, foreign visitors registered in January were more than those of January 2015 and January 2016 together. Many believe that these numbers are a key part of the issue: Iceland's main natural attractions now, especially those in the vicinity of Reykjavik, are very crowded in almost every season, so much so that someone compared certain parts of the country to Disneyland.

However, the tourist presence has not been uniformly distributed: in the north and east of the country, the more distant areas of Reykjavik, only a modest percentage of tourists arriving in Iceland continue to go. Last year, the airline Air Iceland had abolished the connection between Reykjavik and Akureri, the main city in the north of the island, because it was very little visited. But talking about airlines, both the cause and the consequence of the downturn in tourism were also the failure of the low cost Icelandic WOW Air, which in March suspended all activities due to serious financial problems. Iceland is still connected by a limited number of routes and companies, including some of the most important in Europe, such as Ryanair, Air France and KLM.

Experts, however, are not very pessimistic. If it is true that a difficult year could be imagined, "we have never been so prepared to face adversity," said Icelandic central bank governor Mar Gudmundsson. In fact, Iceland has had 20 consecutive quarters of economic growth, the longest period in its history, and unemployment remains very low at around 3.6%. The financial crisis, which struck Iceland violently, was largely overcome thanks to tourism, and today the confidence of investors in the country remains high.

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