There was something special about my recent trip to Reykjavik, Iceland that I can’t say I have ever experienced before. Not just the bewitching mountains and the dramatic volcanic landscape, nor this being my first trip abroad with my beautiful girlfriend; it was because this was my first research trip. Rarely have I had the opportunity to look behind the media’s idealistic views or take a city any more seriously than the cover designed to be a venus-fly-trap for the tourist scene.
I set off with a task of exploring the true meaning of the Icelandic culture… and to identify indicators of how the future of the enterprising landscape may look like for Iceland in the year 2030. My trip, a combination of observation, meetings with locals and interviews with experts within the city – My only regret is not having the time to talk to more people outside of the capital – to get a wider perspective of Icelandic views.
Despite it being difficult to define a culture that is so widely distributed, there were a few words that popped up over and over again – that I believe offers a good representation of what you can expect to find in Iceland
Independence, Strength, Optimism, Heritage
This is a country who have bounced back from financial crisis. A country that turned a volcanic eruption and a global airline shutdown into an opportunity for tourism. A country whose people overruled a bid for EU membership as they wanted to prove that they could stand on their own two feet as an independent nation. A country that has harnessed the power of the seas for its thriving fishing industry and the power of its natural resources for its well-advanced renewable energy market. Bravo. I’m a strong believer that Iceland’s strength as a nation comes from its Viking routes. Unfortunately, I left on the day of the protests following the Panama Leaks, but despite the increasing distrust with in the government and increasing scandals amongst high ranking individuals – I still get the sense of optimism amongst the Icelandic people.
There were a few key observations I came across in Reykjavik, which present themselves as challenges to the future of both the capital and the country as a whole.
The capital is on the verge – if not already of becoming ‘Puffinised’. Reykjavik’s increasing urbanisation sees its capital full of travel agents, puffin shops, cafe’s and restaurants. As I walk passed the construction sites and bright houses I saw an opportunity for the city becoming a tourism hotspot. Reykjavik is expanding, and pulling in various suburbs to be marketed under the ‘Reykjavik’ label. At the same time Iceland’s culture is being stripped back to its beautiful landscape, its culinary dishes and its adorable little bird, surely there’s more to culture than that?
My research saw an increase of Reykjavik locals moving more towards rural areas to escape the tourism scene, whilst areas such as Akureyri are feeling under-resourced and not getting enough of the tourist trade; perhaps a transport problem? or perhaps the lack of budget following on from the crisis, or even marketing short term vacations as opposed to one-two weeks stays.
Something has to be done, fast. To not just manage – but efficiently manage and distribute the increasing tourism sector. To build relevant infrastructure in the right places to account for this growth, whilst maintaining Iceland’s sustainable image. Construction into transport, residential and hospitality fields are key places to look for the future; with this we can expect to see an increase in diversity within the capital as low skilled jobs are created, with an increase in immigration within Eastern European countries. If you are thinking of starting a website out in Iceland, think safety training or language courses! Icelanders may be used to dealing with uncertainties but teaching foreign visitors not to take a selfie on top of a volcano is no laughing matter.
The government’s role will lie in portraying the right marketing messages not just for Reykjavik but in all areas of Iceland, there is a lot more to see than just the capital – and I plan to see more! It wouldn’t be a bad idea to offer grants in start-ups in rural areas for finding innovative ways of increasing their tourism presence. If Isavia are expecting 10 million passengers to travel through Iceland in 2030, then the government need to be carefully planning for these dates.
You can see below a little video I created below depicting some potential scenarios of the Future of Iceland in the year 2030, I welcome your thoughts, comments and if you would like a copy of my full academic report, feel free to drop me a message. For now, I must say despite my slight concerns regarding Iceland losing its niche attraction, I…like the Icelanders are highly optimistic of an opportunistic future for the country!