This year, the Icelandic government is investing approximately 1.7 billion Icelandic kronor (about $ 12.3 million) in infrastructure in both public and private tourist destinations across the country, said Scarfedin Berg Steinarson, director general of the Icelandic Tourism Council. Approximately 1 billion kroons are set aside for infrastructure in national parks, protected areas and large public tourist sites, while 700 million kroons go to the Fund for the Protection of Tourist Sites in the country. The investment was already planned last year, but the government increased funding after the pandemic hit. Further investment will support port and road improvements across the country.
The largest grants from the Tourist Site Protection Fund are supporting the construction of a monitoring platform on Mount Bolafjal in Westfjords, he said, as well as infrastructure in the Studlagil canyon, where a viewing platform is being installed, as well as new paths, toilets and information signs. . These improvements aim to keep tourists safe (the Bolafjall site has a steep cliff), while protecting the landscape from environmental damage and improving the overall visitor experience.
Studlagil Canyon is an example of a phenomenon that is not uncommon in Iceland: a site created not by the hosts but by the visitors. The canyon – which features dramatic basalt cliffs lining the banks of a glacier-fed river – was “discovered” as an attractive destination only recently, Mr Steinarsson said, after the river flow was much calmer after the construction of the river. the nearby hydroelectric power plant.
“This is one of the sites that has been created on social media,” said Mr Steinarsson. “But there is no infrastructure, no parking spaces, no toilets. What happens when you start allowing 100,000 or 500,000 visitors? Everything falls apart because nothing is designed to hold it. “
The government is now working with landowners to build walkways, parking lots and toilets. The aim, Mr Steinarsson said, is to ensure that visitors can enjoy the site “without spoiling anything”.
The infrastructure being installed at Studlagil already exists in most of Iceland’s more established destinations, especially in the Golden Circle, an area not far from Reykjavik that includes some of the country’s most famous tourist destinations: Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir Geothermal Area and National Thingvellir Park, among other places. Although the infrastructure in these areas is already quite good, Mr Steinarsson said that all areas that are particularly fragile will need constant maintenance – and funding – to protect themselves from damage from visitors.