Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for March, 2014

Entrance fees to popular tourist sites controversial

Since the bank crash, when hitherto expensive Iceland suddenly became affordable to foreign tourists due to currency depreciation, ever-increasing numbers of tourists have been visiting Iceland. After the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption, the government started up various publicity campaigns to entice tourists to Iceland – and not just in summer. This has obviously proved successful, as in February more British people travelled through Iceland’s Keflavík airport than Icelanders.

But tourists have to go somewhere, and for many (if not most) the attraction is Iceland’s nature and natural features such as geysers, waterfalls, volcanic craters and the like. However, Icelandic nature is fragile and it cannot tolerate endless trampling from thousands of people each day without suffering damage. Various solutions have been suggested to deal with this over the years, but there has always been considerable opposition to potential solutions, the current option being a Nature Pass that tourists and Icelanders will have to buy and will allow them access to the main sites of natural beauty (EEA rules dictate that the same rules must apply to tourists and Icelanders). Some opposition stems from outdoor hiking and conservation associations, who say, amongst other things, that Icelanders have the right to roam freely around their country, and there is no guarantee that money from the pass will be directed to the sites themselves. The large tourist companies also say they need time to incorporate the extra costs into their prices.

However, some landowners are becoming impatient. Last summer, a charge of 350 kr was made (2 Euro or US$ 3) to the Kerid volcanic crater, though personally I doubt that there is enough tourist traffic there to justify the cost and I notice from Trip Advisor that there is not always someone at the kiosk to collect the money. And now landowners at the immensely popular Geysir site are charging an entrance fee of 650 kr to all those over 16. Part of the Geysir site is owned by the State, and so this fee has been particularly controversial. The national freebie newspaper has published news for the last two days that sounds as if it comes directly from a press release from the landowners, saying that most people are happy to pay the fee, though some refuse and look from outside the fence or from inside a bus. There have also been reports of potential danger arising as people have spilled out onto the road while queuing to get in, which could be dangerous. It will be interesting to follow travellers’ opinions on Trip Advisor on the Geysir site over the next 6 months or so, to see what they have to say.

Iceland has been advertised as a place where people don’t have to pay admission fees to sites of natural beauty. It would be much better if a small extra fee was added to accommodation costs or to airline prices. The cost would then be hidden – though admittedly there is no guarantee that money would be directed to protecting natural sites in those cases either.

Update: The District Court today (April 14) slammed an injunction on the Geysir owners, saying they were not permitted to charge an entrance fee. The landowners are currently wondering what to do next.

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Icelanders demand referendum over EU negotiations

The Icelandic government’s decision three weeks ago to abandon EU negotiations without a  referendum has met with continuous protests from Icelanders. Like the “pots and pans” revolution five years ago which brought down the Icelandic government after the crash, Icelanders have been protesting outside the Althingi building, banging pots and pans (or the police barricade when that was up!) and demanding a referendum as to whether to continue negotiating or not. Originally, the idea had been to complete the process and then ask Icelanders whether they want to join the EU or not.

Three demonstrations have been held on Saturdays and 50,464 people (so far) have signed a petition calling for a referendum. That’s a lot of people, considering that the total population of Iceland is about 326,000, and a sizeable proportion are too young to vote. One of the newspapers, DV, published an article in the current edition that showed that some of the Althingi members currently in the ruling coalition had said, in a pre-election survey of candidates, that they favoured a referendum. But these politicians have stayed quiet. Still, the Independence Party chair and Finance Minister, Bjarni Benediktsson, has now murmured that a referendum might be possible.

Admittedly, it will be difficult for the government to continue if the general public vote to keep negotiations ongoing while neither of the coalition parties want to do so. But that’s their problem. They shouldn’t have promised a referendum if they didn’t intend to have one.