It’s been a decade since Iceland went all-in on tourism, a rapid and drastic expansion of the industry that was initially a bid to salvage the economy from the 2008 financial crisis. The strategy worked so well that it effectively overwhelmed Iceland’s existing infrastructure, but the country’s tourism boom also benefited its closest neighbor, Greenland.
“There’s a lot of inspiration coming from Iceland and whatever’s happening to them there is more beneficial to us,” says Parnuna Egede, a PhD Fellow at the University of Greenland (Ilisimatusarfik) and an advisor on Environmental Issues for the Greenland office of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. “We are a lot fewer [people] and therefore it’s economically challenging to attract tourism. So the activity in Iceland has mostly positive impacts on Greenland because it’s made it a bit cheaper for tourists to get to Greenland.”
How big was Iceland’s boom? According to the UN’s World Tourism Organization, 2.3 million tourists visited the country in 2017, outnumbering locals 5 to 1. Over on Instagram, that digital arbiter of trends, the hashtag “iceland” numbers at 9.5 million and counting. Basically, it’s like everyone’s been there — check your own timeline and count how many of your friends have bathed in the Blue Lagoon or chased waterfalls.
Social media certainly plays a role in marketing Iceland to the adventure set — it seems as if the country has no bad angles — but this has translated IRL into crowded locales, higher prices and less-than-intimate experiences.
Greenland, on the other hand, offers adventurers a reasonably quieter experience. Outdoorsy types, rejoice. Offering clear views of the Northern lights, kayaking through glaciers and encountering numerous wildlife (polar bears! Musk ox!), Greenland is as close to an unmarred landscape as one can get.