Go Local Iceland: Grassroots Efforts to Promote Responsible Rural Tourism
Photo by Joachim Wlezcek
By Lenka Uhrova
Local Travel Movement in Iceland
In July 2010, I published an article on the Local Travel Movement website about how I saw tourism in Iceland at the time. I’ve always been particularly interested in regions off the beaten tourist track, which in the past would often be overlooked and overshadowed by the more commonly promoted highlights and ‘must-sees’ of Iceland.
In this context, I’ve been thinking about the different types of experiences tourists can gain while traveling, based on what kind of travel they choose. Over the years I’ve come to find that there are many people all over the world who are ready to travel mindfully and give themselves enough time to explore local culture and nature in a respectful manner. In light of this, I felt empowered and inspired to dedicate my time and efforts to promoting this type of travel in Iceland.
Initially, I had many questions about how to move forward with this. After a year of working on the Go Local Iceland initiative and exploring Icelandic tourism even further, I have arrived at some answers to these questions. In my quest for answers, I have also come up with some new questions and concerns.
Uniting Tourism Providers in Iceland
Tourism in Iceland is a young industry, and therefore is relatively uncoordinated. For example, in Eyjafjordur (the longest fjord in Iceland), there is not one institution that is responsible for promoting the fjord as a whole. There are seven municipalities included in the area of Eyjafjordur, although each municipality finds it more important to focus on their own designated area rather than on the fjord as a whole.
While Eyjafjordur represents great potential for local travel, it is not promoted as a destination in a cohesive manner and is every year losing thousands of potential visitors, who visit the touristic magnet of Grimsey Island, which is located in Eyjafjordur but don’t take the time to also explore the whole fjord with all of its beauty.
The Go Local Iceland initiative focuses on solid cooperation with local tourism providers who are interested in improving ethical standards of tourism. By uniting these people and organizations under one common platform we will be able to connect them directly to mindful travelers all over the world.
There are many rural destinations in Iceland that don’t get as much attention from mainstream tourists as do the typical Icelandic highlights. However, these relatively untouched places are dream destinations for the mindful traveler. It is important that such travelers find their way to these rural places. With some local assistance and guidance, you can find ways to reach any hidden fjord in any part of Iceland, whether you choose a destination in nature that is near or far from populated towns and settlements.
Photo by Joachim Wlezcek
As of May 2011, I’ve carried out a total of 28 interviews with local tourism providers in Eyjafjordur. This research was a very important step for me, and has helped me to understand how local tourism providers see themselves and others, as well as what their visions for the future are. The results of the interviews varied quite a bit. However, a unifying concept was the desire to be advertised under one common image. These interviews, based on appreciative inquiry, contained some great material; the results of the study have been borrowed for use in further research within the tourism department of one of the universities here in Iceland.
Go Local Iceland continues to support local tourism providers, such as Iceland Hiking Tours, and our team continues to write about current offers in tourism in Eyjafjordur and the Troll Peninsula, regardless of municipal borders. You can view these Iceland Travel Tips here.
Photo by Tina Bauer
About the Author: Lenka Uhrova
Lenka was born in Slovakia, but has since spent many years in Iceland volunteering, working in the tourism industry, and forging sustainable tourism initiatives across the country. She has an educational background in tourism, although upon attaining her degree she was rather unmotivated to work in the tourism industry due to issues and controversies of the time. Something did not feel right. It was at this time that she discovered a deep passion for volunteering and community development, and a wish to work for an NGO. This passion for volunteering has been a constant over the years, and so as soon as she had the opportunity, she set off for a year-long volunteer project in Iceland. Having been working as a freelance trainer in non-formal education and facilitating various projects, she was lucky enough to return to Iceland a few years later, where she met the man of her life and settled in a small fishing village in North Iceland. At this point, she began to recognize both the potentials and threats of tourism in Iceland. She set to work conducting research on the subject, and volunteering in the field. Before long she started her own initiative, GO LOCAL ICELAND, with the aim of improving ethical standards in tourism.
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