Embrace Your Inner Explorer: How Iceland’s Marketing and Accommodations Have Fostered ‘Binge Tourism’ Posted on January 11th, 2024 by

Hi there!


Welcome to the blog for “Otherwordly Iceland: Culture, Environment and Tourism in a Globalized Age.” My name is Victor Solano, and I am one of the students fortunate enough to embark on this journey to explore Iceland and sustainable tourism. Throughout the week, we have spent our time in Reykjavik, the nation’s capital city and the cultural capital of Iceland. It has been insightful to learn more about Iceland’s culture and history prior to diving into the landscapes. The city is bursting with life even though it is not in its peak season, which typically arrives in the summer. There are people around every corner taking aesthetic pictures with idealized structures such as Hallgrímskirkja. There are also numerous shops to feed tourists’ obsession with consumerism. People flock to Reykjavik because there is a lot to do in just one day. In fact, you can get up the next morning and see a completely different side of the city, or even venture into different cultural centers. This notion of speedy tourism has been ingrained in tourists minds, and it has become especially apparent after visiting Reykjavik and the landscapes Iceland offers. 


Iceland’s marketing is truly brilliant. Go look up “Iceland vacation” and you will be bombarded with images of serene landscapes, the northern lights, and way too many pictures of the Blue Lagoon. See how long you can scroll before you find a website/picture of a museum or culturally significant destination. Well, watch out! I just sent you into a trap. On the surface, Iceland has majestic landscapes which people only appreciate for their natural beauty; however, people fail to realize that some of these alluring landscapes actually have a cultural and historical significance. Therefore, people are more concerned with recreating Iceland’s next stock photo at these spots than they are with appreciating the land’s history and beauty. Is this the tourists’ fault? Or is it Iceland’s responsibility to educate consumers about these landscapes?


Like every business, Iceland’s marketing focuses on maximizing profits. Will they maximize profits by showing their beautiful landscapes? Or their cultural centers? Yesterday when our class was asked why we chose to travel to Iceland, only one person said they came to investigate the cultural and historical significance of the country. The other fourteen chose this destination because they anxiously awaited the opportunity to pursue nature based tourism. A member of the Icelandic Tourist Board who came to speak to us today mentioned that about “80-90 percent of tourists come to Iceland for the nature based attractions.” As such, their marketing plan is nature based, which is strategic and effective at getting people infatuated with the land before they can even step foot on it. Moreover, since there is so much to see, people book their schedules full and can only spend a minimal amount of time at each destination. Since people have to see so many things in so little time, taking numerous photos has become their way of “admiring the landscape.” 


After touring the Golden Circle (Geysir, Gulfoss, and Thingvellir), it has become apparent that many people share the same interests as our class. The museums are barren, and the landscapes flooded with tourists anxiously awaiting the perfect shot. In fact, numerous people ventured past the ropes and paths to get a better picture (see picture one; in the distance there are tourists standing on the edge of the cliff in the distance which is not allowed). Once they get the perfect photo, they catch their bus without truly admiring the beauty of the landscape. However, many tourists have also put the gift shops on their radars before leaving. These attractions are a classic example of the clash between consumerism and nature based tourism due to the fact that they are in such close proximity. It has almost become a necessity to check out the gift shop for some “authentic Iceland apparel” before leaving (many items we found were actually made in Lithuania or other countries). It is clear that the marketing campaign focuses on drawing people to their landscapes and gift shops, but not their cultural centers. This makes it more likely that tourists will skip the cultural exhibits and visit all the natural areas on the Golden Circle in just one day. Unfortunately, Icelandic companies have enabled this binge tourism by ceaselessly obeying these orders. One unintentional consequence of this (or maybe intentional consequence—efficiency drives revenue at the end of the day) is that people have become more concerned with saying they have visited a place (and now have a photograph to show for it), than they are with admiring nature and its history. In other words, this form of binge tourism has transformed Iceland into a checkbox that people have on their travel itineraries. As such, tourists aren’t concerned with soaking in nature’s beauty, they would rather put a check through a box on their bucket lists (see the T-Shirt found in a souvenir shop attached below). 


All of the sites that we visited today revolved around one thing: binge tourism. People are trying to see as much as they can in as little time as possible. They hop on a bus in the morning to visit a culturally significant site (which they don’t even know is culturally significant) to snap the perfect photo. Then, they hop on a bus for some “Icelandic lunch.” After some high quality grub, they go to snap a picture of them in front of the infamous “Geysir;” often pushing past other tourists and slipping on ice while doing so. Lastly, they travel to Gullfoss to snap the perfect shot of a stunning waterfall. All in a day’s work! I found this significant because I felt as though the brevity of our sightseeing desensitized me to the natural beauty captured here. People are given time limits for when they need to be back on the bus so that they can continue on their one day exploration of numerous natural wonders. This prevented people from truly admiring nature. Oftentimes people just wanted to get the perfect shot—then back on the bus for the next thing. As a tourist on the Golden circle myself, I couldn’t help but fall in line. After all, I wanted to see all the different angles, and the best way to do so was to snap a picture and move on—especially since I also had a bus to catch. This was shocking to me. How can we come to a country with such natural beauty and glaze over it in the way we are? This isn’t a question just for the tourists because Icelandic companies are fueling the fire by providing people with the means necessary. It seems as though Icelandic people have given up their cultural significance and pride in their landscapes by making tourists explore these areas without any direction. This makes me wonder what Icelandic companies can do to successfully feed the tourist boom that they are experiencing, while also reclaiming the pride and significance in their landscapes? In other words, is there a way Icelandic companies give tourists a better sense of direction so that the natural beauty and historical significance can be fully appreciated, and not idealized in a photo?


Picture 1: Tourists taking photos at Gullfoss. Notice the figures in the upper right portion of the image who are standing out on the edge of the cliff where they shouldn’t be.

Picture 2: a T-shirt for sale at the Gullfoss Gift shop reinforcing the idea that Iceland is a checkbox people are looking to cross off.


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