The Uniqueness of Iceland as a Tourist Concept and Internal Discourse

The Uniqueness of Iceland as a Tourist Concept and Internal Discourse

Dorota Rancew-Sikora (University of Gdansk, Poland)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2930-9.ch010
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Abstract

The chapter concerns the uniqueness of Iceland as a rich and ambiguous concept which extends modern tourist discourse, performs different functions and is essentially located within a particular network of communication between the local people and visitors. The analysis is based on a collective monograph published in Poland, in which Icelandic writers, film-makers and social activists talk to outsiders about their country. The research addresses the following questions: What does the concept of uniqueness mean for Icelanders and what role does it play in a broader discourse related to Iceland? What positions do Icelandic actors take within the thesis of uniqueness of the place where they live? In what aspects do they try to maintain or destroy the tourist definition of their place? In result it is visible how the attractive tourist vision is unmasked as a dangerous illusion. The authors express the opinion that Iceland is being too deeply and too painfully stripped of the myth of particularity and this has become an important part of Icelanders' reality, which they have to deal with
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The Context Of The Growth Of Tourism In Iceland

Today, tourist discourse presents Iceland as a unique place (Benediktsson, Lund & Huijbens, 2010; Gunnarsdóttir, 2011; Huijbens, 2011; Kjartansdóttir, 2009; Schram, 2009a), although for much of its history it was rarely visited by outsiders, and certainly not for pleasure. This can be explained not only by difficult access to the island and its hostile natural environment, but also political restrictions imposed by Danish colonizers. In the late nineteenth century, the number of visitors to Iceland slightly increased, although the island still did not become a tourist destination. Travel narratives characterized it as a dangerous place because of its volcanic landscape, glaciated mountains, uninhabited high-plateau desert interior, fjord coastline and unpredictable, severe weather conditions (Kjartansdóttir, 2009). Tourist journeys to Iceland started when pure and unspoiled nature became rare and highly valued all around the world. Today, Gunnthora Olafsdottir (2013) considers Iceland a good example of nature-based tourism, connected with an increase of people’s interest in natural landscapes, geophysical forces and landscapes devoid of human interference (referred to as wilderness in North American discourse). The author explains the roots of this interest by the cultural impact of the Renaissance and Romanticism, as well by scientific discourse, which all generated people’s curiosity about the mysteries of nature. Icelandic glaciers and volcanoes give visitors an experience which helps them to understand the story of the formation of the Earth. Feared and avoided before, they are now sought and appreciated, and it is also because of them that tourists come to Iceland and take the imagined roles of explorers (Benediktsson, Lund & Huijbens, 2010).

In the last three decades the number of tourists visiting Iceland has significantly increased and today tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Icelandic economy (Jóhannesson, Huijbens & Sharpley, 2010). This expansion has caused some social and environmental problems and influenced the discourse related to tourism in the country. For a long time tourism had a marginal position in the public discourse in Iceland and was not perceived as serious enough for public actors to become an issue on the political agenda. Gunnar Jóhannesson and Edward Huijbens (2010) note that only after the financial crisis in 2008 did it move to a more central position and is currently considered an important strategy of coping with the economic problems in Iceland. The tourist industry benefited from some investment in marketing campaigns, which again transformed the discourse about Iceland as a tourist destination.

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