Iceland, a small country with just shy of 380,000 inhabitants, had less than 500,000 visitors in 2010. This number has grown rapidly year by year. In 2019, around 2.3 million travelers visited Iceland and this number is expected to grow further. Iceland’s capital remains among the 50 most popular international destinations and one of the hottest cold-weather destinations in the world.
Due to the sudden growth of tourism, Iceland has been mentioned in the context of overtourism. By Icelandic standards, some of the popular destinations are, indeed, much more frequently visited than they were a decade ago. Compared to other popular travel destinations, however, Iceland is far from crowded. Here are some examples:
In Iceland, we receive about 2.3 million visitors a year, (22 tourists/sq km). If we were to exclude the glaciers, there would be 25 visitors/sq km, which is still less crowded than Norway. It’s also important to remember that these are yearly figures, so those 25 visitors per square kilometer (~58 visitors/sq mi) are scattered throughout the year.
According to a yearly survey carried out by the Iceland Tourist Board, the attitude of Icelanders toward the growth of tourism has been generally and largely positive. They appreciate the new job and service opportunities, especially in rural areas. The majority of locals agree that tourism has had a positive impact on society and has even increased their own interest in Icelandic nature.
There’s no point in denying, however, that tourism has both a positive and negative impact on destinations. There was one survey question to which most Icelanders expressed a negative attitude or worry. In 2018, three of every four locals agreed that the pressure that tourism exerts on Icelandic nature is too high.
According to the same survey, 92.4% of travelers to Iceland decided to visit the country because of its nature or particular natural features. Nature tourism is quite unique in the industry as it’s a fragile product that needs protection, even though it’s a product that isn’t owned by anyone but shared among many.
Iceland doesn’t have a national park service that can enforce strict regulations on what one may or may not do. There’s no limit to the number of visitors and there are no admission fees to access the natural attraction sites.
As tourist traffic increases, there are more and more people that don’t behave in a safe, responsible, and environmentally-friendly manner at these locations, putting themselves and others in physical danger and degrading the environment.
There are more than 500 tour operators in Iceland that bring tourists to these places. A large number of visitors also travel without local guides. When people aren’t careful, these natural sites become degraded, as do the quality of service and visitor experience.
As Iceland’s largest tour operator, we recognize our responsibility and are committed to operating more sustainably and promoting responsible travel. We do this not only among our guests but also among everyone who comes across our websites and social media pages, encouraging travelers to behave respectfully, non-invasively, and to make meaningful decisions.
As a successful market player, we’re aware that our potential guests are well-informed and demand quality service. When choosing from the wide array of Icelandic tour operators, our potential guests always prefer the more responsible service provider. We expect the number of eco-conscious travelers to grow rapidly in the future.
Arctic Adventures carried out a customer survey to find out about attitudes towards the environment, climate change, and tourism’s effects on Iceland. The results showed that not only are the majority of tourists concerned about the environment, but their worries grow after seeing Iceland firsthand.
To satisfy our potential customers’ needs and ease their concerns about the negative impact of their travels, it’s essential for us to maintain high-quality service and work towards sustainable operations. This not only brings great rewards for our business but also offers benefits to the environment, the communities living in the destinations, and, of course, to our customers. A more eco-friendly holiday is always a better holiday.
The roots of our company lie in our passion for Icelandic nature. It provides the adventure itself, as the environment is our beloved playground. There are only a few inhabited places in the world where the natural environment remains as untouched as it is in Iceland. This is something we take great pride in and are focused on preserving.
Ensuring that future generations can experience the same things that we can experience today requires careful planning. During everyday operations, it can be easy to lose track of our long-term goals.
A good sustainability policy is like a business plan; it controls the processes from the lowest level of operation up to the systematic regulations, starting small but thinking big. We’re confident that the target that we’ve set for ourselves is realistic, achievable, and efficient.
We’re committed to protecting the natural environment, wildlife, and natural resources when developing and managing our tourism activities.
Thinking about the long-term, we’re always looking for new and better ways to make our operations more sustainable and aren’t afraid to swim against the current to do so.
We’re constantly monitoring, re-focusing, re-thinking, and adapting to changes – both environmentally and culturally – to ensure the balance between limits and usage.
To show respect to our guests, we aim to maintain a high standard and provide travelers with quality service and authentic tourist experiences that celebrate and conserve Icelandic nature, heritage, and culture. We respect and support our locals by creating socio-economic benefits for their communities.
We work closely with relevant Icelandic associations, participating in research and undertaking voluntary work with local communities and landowners in the areas where tours are operated. We make regular donations to organizations and support their efforts in various ways.
“Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.”
So goes the shortened principle that we follow and promote. Every member of the Arctic Adventures family is committed to sharing their love for Icelandic nature and promoting environmental awareness in each of our guests.
Our tour guides are the most dedicated nature lovers in our company. It was true passion that led them to choose Icelandic nature as their daily workplace and they’re naturally committed to protecting it. Our guides are trained to share their outstanding knowledge with our guests in an entertaining way and to encourage them to behave responsibly so that they leave no trace in Iceland’s fragile environment.
Sustainable tourism isn’t exclusively dependent on tour operators. It requires the determination of travelers as well. But tour operators play a great role in educating and engaging visitors to behave more cautiously and become more responsible tourists.
We put great effort into marketing and promoting our principles to a broad audience. We not only promote them to our guests but also to the hundreds of thousands of readers that visit our websites and social media channels searching for valuable information about Iceland. We truly believe that our words have a great impact.
Our plan to become more sustainable is future-oriented but also based on real, everyday actions. Just like in any business, great achievements in environmental protection can be accomplished by making an effort every single day. Here are some of the practical steps we are taking to support our sustainability policy.
For press releases about our recent green efforts, check out our media page.
Arctic Adventures has recently signed a contract with the Iceland Carbon Fund (Kolviður) to plant 10,000 trees in their forests. The fund was started by two non-profit organizations, the Icelandic Forestry Association (Skógræktarfélag Íslands) and the Icelandic Environment Association (Landvernd). Together, they make it possible for companies to offset their unavoidable emissions through donations.
The donation will be spent planting trees and expanding Iceland’s forests, thus neutralizing the carbon released into the atmosphere and combating soil erosion. Kolvidur also works to increase public awareness of carbon emissions.
Their forests are strategically planted to absorb the maximum amount of CO2 and are protected for a minimum of 60 years until the trees grow strong. During their lifetime, the trees absorb carbon and store it in their root system, trunk, and branches. The forests prevent soil erosion and maintain the storage of carbon in the soil.
By planting 10,000 trees in Iceland, Arctic Adventures has offset 46% of its CO2 emissions from 2018. The contract brings us closer to becoming a carbon-neutral tour operator and preserving the beautiful nature we enjoy every day.
We also offer our customers the chance to join us in this project by choosing to offset the carbon from their trip with us. This option will be made available in the booking process for specific tours and customers will be offered the option to purchase one tree to plant in the Kolviður forests at each booking. Through this joint effort, we hope to become 100% carbon neutral by the end of 2020.
We are proud bearers of the Vakinn Silver Class Environmental Certificate, which is an official recognition of our high standards concerning sustainability, the environment, and social responsibility.
Arctic Adventures has been awarded and has maintained this official quality and environmental certification for several years now. Only tourism businesses that maintain high standards in all aspects of their business practices and meet Vakinn’s comprehensive assessment criteria earn the right to carry this official label.
Certified businesses have proven they operate in an ethical, professional, and environmentally-sustainable way and have the required systems and policies to provide a safe and happy holiday in Iceland with a minimized impact on the environment.
The preservation of the magnificent Icelandic nature for future generations has always been very important to Arctic Adventures. We believe that the protection of fragile ecosystems and wildlife habitats is as necessary as finding ways to reduce our individual and collective ecological footprints.
We’re proud to be an officially recognized sustainable tour operator and are constantly on the lookout for new ways to improve our sustainability and set new standards in Iceland’s young adventure tourism industry. Together, we can keep our fragile wilderness areas intact for future generations to enjoy.