SUSTAINABILITY - International Tourism in the Arctic under COVID-19: A Telecoupling Analysis of Iceland


November 17, 2022 - Author: and

During the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism slowed down as the world went into lockdown. This pause in tourism provides a unique opportunity to analyze the environmental and socioeconomic effects of tourism by comparing tourism participation levels before, during, and after the pandemic restrictions. We examined tourism in Iceland, an island nation in the Arctic where international tourists vastly outnumber residents. Specifically, we systematically analyzed the materials, energy, tourist, and information flows, as well as the causes, effects, and agents of tourism in Iceland using the framework of telecoupling (human-nature interactions over distances). Results show that the U.S., U.K., and Nordic countries sent the highest numbers of tourists to Iceland. Flows of tourists to Iceland were tracked based on international flights and cruise ships, with Iceland’s tourism industry returning close to pre-pandemic levels in 2022 for air arrivals, while cruise ship tourism was slower in returning to pre-pandemic levels. Agents in the Icelandic tourism industry include government entities, local businesses, tour operators, and many others. There are diverse causes for tourism in Iceland, such as the demand for nature-based tourism and a cooler climate. International tourism in Iceland had both substantial environmental effects (CO2 emissions, damage to sensitive areas, etc.) and socioeconomic effects (e.g., increases in GDP and jobs). Many effects also spillover to the rest of the world as increases in CO2 emissions contribute to global climate change. Tourism is also expected to continue increasing after Iceland’s 2022 marketing launch of “Iceland Together in Progress.” Since Iceland has had such a strong tourism rebound, other countries around the world (especially other Arctic countries) that are looking to increase their tourism can gain insights from Iceland. However, it is important to make tourism more sustainable (e.g., reduction in CO2 emissions).



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