Tourism is connected to various national and international economic aspects, as well as environmental, governmental and social factors (PKF 34). Discussing about Iceland’s tourism all these factors and others are to be considered when evaluating the development plan described in the “Promote Iceland” document. While the country’s internal macro economy (comprising politic, economic, social, technologic, environmental or legal aspects) is significant in explaining the trends in the tourism industry, Iceland’s strategies for developing its tourism hold into account also the macroeconomic aspects of other countries, which constitute potential tourism source for Iceland, and “Promote Iceland” accurately describes how the macro-economy of various countries that represented significant source of tourism for Iceland affected the tourism in this country due to the recent socio – economic shifts and downturns (PKF 34 - 38).
The problem definition that “Promote Island” sets, proposing collaboration between the public and private sector partners as a solution for achieving sustainable tourism while aiming for the development of this tourism with green economy (PKF 2). The document also proposes a series of measures that needs to be taken and objectives that need to be met for achieving the proposed goal that will be discussed within this writing.
Discussing about tourism, Colin Michael Hall quotes Gun and Var (2002), who observe that the concept is an abstraction, as it does not physically exist, but Hall argues that tourism defines the concept of space and time (away from home into another location) (2). Iceland’s government is coping with the economic crisis and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajocull volcano in 2010, which impacted its inbound touristic activity. The plan was to redress from this situation through policy measures that imply attracting more visitors in order to contribute to the country’s GDP, however, with a focus on conserving and preserving the country’s resources and values. The national policies include also a more focused attention on creating circuits around the Golden Circle even outside the peak of the touristic season, in order to cover the slower touristic periods of the year, setting competitive prices, meaning lowering the current high costs so that Iceland not to be removed from the touristic map because of unaffordable touristic offers. Developing environmental sustainable tourism or creating customized jobs for tourism industry among others, changing the purpose of Keflavik airport from passing through to staying, the development of MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) and business or corporate affairs as a purpose for travelling to Iceland are other measures suggested in “Promote Iceland” document (PKF “Promote Iceland”).
Considering the economic downturn that started in 2008 and that is still felt in developed and developing countries, it had significantly impacted Iceland, which suffered a decline in tourism during 2008 – 2010, when it developed a plan to recover from this situation, with a focus also on attracting FDI and positioning the country as a major competitor in the tourism industry (PKF 2).
Observing the problems that Europe is facing in managing tourism, Coccossis and Mexa state that a serious problem in this industry is managing the touristic flow, which accounts for large amounts of travellers in the peak periods, which impacts the environment and on a long term, the quality of the tourism in certain regions, as the areas much trafficked by visitors are due to suffer critical problems (xi).
In Iceland’s case, the document “Promote Iceland” also points this aspect of tourism as a problem, linking it also with the high prices that the customers have complaint about, stating that they were charged with five – star prices for budget – style hotels and the solution for this problem, as the document suggest, is to improve the city’s software regarding the sustainable commitment to environment protection by creating circuits outside the touristic peak, so that the prices could be more affordable, covering like this the slower touristic periods, while satisfying the customers (PKF 14).
While some argue that tourism is not an issue, comparable with global climate change, deforestation, loss of cultural diversity or of biodiversity, poverty or economic restructuring, Hall observes that it is such an issue and because to its continuous increase, as people move more and more around the world, it contributes to the other issues (19).
The solution proposed in “Promote Iceland”, to create year round circuits might be viable for relaxing the touristic peak periods, when the customer flux is high and tensioned, creating tensions upon the environment also. Proposing various tours outside the touristic peak might allow for a higher consideration on the touristic environmental impact and tourists could be trained by their guides how to protect and conserve the visited locations. These and other similar actions and interventions are possible through setting public policies (Ghimire, Ghimire & Pimbert 18).
A public policy represents a political activity, being determined by the socio – economic factors, as well as by the cultural features of society, governmental and other political forms, while setting tourism policy implies elaborating on the touristic planning for implementing them (Hall 9). As such, the public policies are reflections of the national politics, where political inequalities or fight for power can result in favouring particular socio – economic aspects while disfavouring others (Thomas & Thomas 122).
Regarding the tourism policies, Thomas and Thomas indicate that small agencies can influence public policies, by arguing the local needs in terms of tourism, where tourism is really significant (122). In addition, OECD states that in establishing tourism policies significant issues represent the global aspects or inherent factors that affect a country’s economy and produces social shifts, such as the global recession, or natural disasters (3), as the eruption of the volcano for Iceland in 2010.
Managing tourism and its implications upon environment is paradoxically linked with bringing tourism into one country, for contributing to the country’s economic growths. And in Iceland the tourism is an economic actor that is rapidly growing lately, due to the country’s efforts of attracting qualitative tourism, seeking to develop its MICE potential in the Northern Europe in a sustainable manner, as it is currently improperly exploited (PKF 41) or to promote the exploration of the Northern Lights or the aurora borealis in the winter months for contributing to the touristic flux (PKF 21).
As the document “Promote Iceland” indicates, in the country’s touristic plans there are also recommended the exploration of the unspoiled and unique resources of Iceland such as the volcanoes, the geology, terrain, wilderness, inclusive the marine fauna (especially the whales) and the country’s distinctive culture (PKF 17) or the exploration of the activities that can be performed in this country such as bird or whale and seal watching, horse riding, wildlife and nature tours, adventure tours, coach or customized tours, cruises, geothermal pools and bathing, fishing, angling and hunting, catering and cultural cuisine tours, the eco tours, etc. (PKF 20).
However, as Hall observes, there is an antagonism regarding the eco-tourism and the environmental sustainable tourism, which it breaks down in the moment people travel (19). Therefore, while seeking to explore one country’s richness and natural and unique resources for contributing to the country’s economy, the environmental sustainability of the country is impacted (Newsome & More 105).
This is practically similar with the discussion about the country’s culture. Iceland’s culture is distinctive and the tourism is attracted towards this country also because of its distinctive culture (Halfdanarson 4). Nevertheless, as the tourists continue to visit this country, their touristic tastes, which are a reflection of their culture, might impact Iceland’s own culture. As such, tourists coming from different countries might prefer a golf terrain to an ice hotel, for instance, or they might prefer a certain type of international dish, instead of Icelandic specific food. In time, this might impact the country’s culture, which would tend to be inclusive with other cultures, losing like this its sense of uniqueness.
As Hall observes, tourism planning and policy has to manage the visitors’ satisfaction while protecting the local resources, for providing sustainable development of the touristic destinations (11). This theory is elaborated by Halkier and Therkelse also, who recommend an integrated approach for attaining sustainable tourism, meaning that the public (national) and private institutions, as well as a sub - national organizations and tourists must be brought together for attaining the goal of sustainable tourism (3).
The “Promote Iceland” document takes into consideration this theory, as it notes the importance of the collaboration between the country and the Arctic partners for ensuring the sustainable development of the cruise tourism (PKF 44) or the significance of the tour operators to promote Iceland for the unique adventures and activities that it offers, as well as for its MICE potential, throughout the year (PKF 20).
In formulating a public policy, these four actors mentioned above, public and private national institutions, subnational organizations and tourists share various activities in setting public policy in tourism, but in order for it to be efficiently settled, the involvement of other critical policy actors is required, as Hall notices (257).
National organizations, in collaboration with the private sector are meant to assure product development, tourism expansion, spatial planning, where fair play and partnership should govern upon these relationships and the relationships between the private forms involved in public – private collaboration. For the relationship between national organizations and sub – national organizations there must be assured encouragement of the regional or local initiatives, sponsorship for the viable actions, regulations and coordination, under a reliable partnership. Nonetheless, for the relationship between national organizations and tourists the key to sustainable tourism is on-going promotion for attracting tourists, while assuring qualitative standards, supported by continuous research for identifying the tourists’ needs and for offering competitive touristic trends, while bearing in mind the safety of the tourists and of the visited location(s) (Halkier & Therkelsen 1).
In addition to these relationships there are also three approaches to tourism that define differently the sustainability in tourism: market positioning, public – private relations and territorial relations (Halkier & Therkelsen 1).
The market positioning refers not only to the competitive advantages that a market destination has compared to the others, but also to the interest that the market sets regarding the region’s sustainable development – the positioning of the market regarding tourism sustainability, translated into programmes and activities meant to protect the country’s biodiversity, culture, while preserving the natural life and/or the touristic sights, for further exploration (UNEP 21).
In “Promote Iceland” the market positioning is described by defining the country’s elements that makes it competitive (its unique resources), but there are also discussed the eco/sustainable tours that are offered in the tour operators packages for visiting the country, hence, a direct interest in following this sustainable touristic goal (PKF 19).
The public – private relations regarding sustainable tourism implies working together at different levels for identifying viable sustainable solutions. As UNEP states, governments deliver tourism support through marketing, information, education about tourism often within public – private frameworks (23). For instance, airline companies represent significant sub – national organizations, which can produce activities at public or private level. The airports and flight destinations are highly significant for the tourism of any country and there should be designed common goals for public and private actors operating in this sector (WTO 58).
In Iceland, there is an active public-private collaboration for reaching economic growth, as such the “Inspired by Iceland” campaign is 50/50 public-private funded (PKF 28) and one of the strategic objectives of the “Promote Iceland” is to deliver public-private collaboration in the product development, which implies creating alternative circuits for assuring a sustained growth and development of the tourism, with a special focus on sustainability as the criteria of the investment and development (PKF 61).
Although “Promote Iceland” document did not specifically describe the problem definitions, they are easily identified in the text: the economic crisis, the eruption of the Eyjafjallajocull volcano in 2010, the development of sustainable tourism, the promotion of new touristic purposes and activities, the development of MICE, corporate and business tourism, the tourism flux during the whole year, the alignment of the public and private sector for developing economic opportunities for attracting tourism and FDI to enhance tourism.
The measures for these identified problems are mostly included in the Tourism Strategy 2011 to 2020, which include a focused approach on emphasizing Iceland’s unique nature; improving the country’s tourism from a qualitative perspective; promoting profitability within the industry; extending the tourist season while decreasing seasonal fluctuations; promoting tourism sustainability it the eco tours and through various forms of public information (PKF 54).
The extent to which the four objectives are mutually compatible
There are four strategic objectives in “Promote Iceland” document, meant to enable environment for investment and attracting FDI:
- achieving sustainable tourism and green economy (by capitalizing the effects the sustainable growth in green economy and by developing a unified approach for enabling sustainable investment);
- developing a market focus and segmentation (by simplifying and consolidating brands for promoting a consistent image or by attracting “high yield” and “low impact” visitors throughout the year;
- Define a product development and investment (by creating alternative circuits to Golden Circle for assuring and managing the visitor flow year round, by promoting investment through public private partnership or by setting sustainability as the core development and investment criteria);
- Organize the industry for success (by introducing a tourism strategy group at governmental level, by improving the collaboration within industry , developing clusters or establishing regional champions or by providing zoning and policy documents for various regions, engaging both local and central government) (PKF 60 - 61).
Looking closely into these objectives for analysing if they are compatible with one another, there can be observed that the primary focus is on the environmental sustainability and economic growth, which represents the first objective. For achieving this objective Iceland seeks to attain green economy and sustainable tourism by adapting its tourism environment to the provisions of United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which state that the tourism in a green economy implies “tourism activities that can be maintained, or sustained, indefinitely in their social, economic, cultural and environmental context”, with low carbon, reduced dependence on oil and coal, while increasing reliance on clean energy (PKF 64).
Although not directly, this objective is included in the following strategic objective, because in developing market focus and segmentation the attention should be on attracting “high yield” “low impact” visitors from other countries, year round, therefore, orientating towards segmentation, sustained by an in – depth market approach (PKF 69). Likewise, as the document further describes, the campaign “Inspired by Iceland” promotes the values and cultural uniqueness of the country, for attracting foreign customers specifically for its image, therefore, relating to the primary objective of creating a sustainable environment, by promoting and preserving the country’s natural resources and cultural values.
As a parenthesis, Tribe observes that currently a tourism trend is to engage in another country’s culture, by getting to know it directly, by involving in various activities from the visited country so that to create a strong connection with that country’s culture and sometimes tourists tend to work or live in that country for better understanding its culture (28).
The third strategic objective is in line with the first and the second. As such, aiming to define product development and investment, the “Promote Iceland” document seeks to promote green economy and sustainable tourism by creating year round tourist flows, for accommodating the tourists who intend to visit the country’s sights and reducing like this the impact upon the country’s environment. Likewise, the third strategic objective is seeking to attain proper tourist accommodation, while focusing on specific tourist attraction with potential for being exploited by tourists in the winter time, as Diamond Circle and the Yulelads and on preserving the touristic value of the oversaturated destinations (PKF 73), following like this, also to develop market segmentation, compatible with the second strategic objective.
The fourth strategic objective, organising the industry for success indicates a relationship between the proper development of the state apparatus for supporting the sustainable tourism and the green economy, as well as for creating a market segmentation as a result of the proposed Tourism Strategy Group, whose representative actors will be involved in promoting the country by also providing intelligence market framework and market development, touristic innovation or statistical research and forecasts, as well as classification and quality standards (PKF 77) for a proper tourist segmentation.
Therefore, the objectives are compatible with one another, which indicates an integrated approach to tourism development for sustaining the country’s economy in the current economic context, the actual environmental concerns, while focusing on the tourists’ satisfaction by properly placing the touristic products and developing them for achieving more awareness and increased competitivity.
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