International tourists have flocked to the country in the past six years.
According to new figures, American tourists will outnumber Icelanders in their own country by the end of the year.
Iceland has welcomed 325,522 American tourists so far this year up to the end of September, according to data released from the Icelandic Tourism Board. The country’s total population is 332,000.
The country has seen a dramatic increase in American tourists since 2010, but the increase in the past two years is particularly staggering. In 2014, the country only had 152,104 American visitors—that number has doubled.
Iceland’s tourism board began aggressively advertising to travelers in 2010, part of the increase can perhaps be attributed to Icelandair’s free stopover program, which allows Americans to experience the country on an extended layover while on their way to Europe. And Game of Thrones shot much of its third season in the country, giving Americans even more motivation to visit.
The dramatic rise in tourism has put some strain on the country’s resources. Tourists fly into the Keflavik airport in the south of the country, just outside of Reykjavik, and often take the same routes. They flock to the capital and the sights in southern Iceland, including Gulfoss waterfall, Thingvellir national park, and Geysir geothermal park. While Iceland has generally embraced the foreigners, not all locals are happy about the overcrowding.
“It’s like the city is not my city any more,” Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic politician, poet and activist told The Telegraph. She said that her political party aims to cap the number of tourists visiting natural sites around the country and introduce a hotel tax that would fund improvements for Iceland’s tourist infrastructure.
The Icelandic government is currently in the middle of a nine-year tourism plan (ending in 2020) that will improve the infrastructure at tourist sites: “The development of tourism infrastructure shall aim at protecting nature, and the tourism strategy shall aim at incorporating the concepts of sustainability and responsibility for Iceland’s culture and natural surroundings,” the plan states.
Earlier this year, Iceland tourism authorities launched a program to educate visitors on how to respect and maintain the country’s natural sites.
By the end of the year, Iceland expects to have hosted 1.5 million tourists from around the world. In 2010, that number was only 459,000. The tourism board expects that Iceland will have 2 million annual tourists by 2020.