Iceland has become a victim of its own popularity. As travelers continue to be drawn to the island nation’s dramatic—and Instagram-friendly—natural landscapes, the impact on its environment is growing. In an attempt to curb that mounting pressure, the country’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir announced late last month that a new tourist tax—with specifics still being discussed—will be implemented in 2024.
“Tourism has really grown exponentially in Iceland in the last decade, and that obviously is not just creating effects on the climate,” she told Bloomberg. “It’s also because most of our guests who are coming to us are visiting unspoiled nature, and obviously it creates a pressure.”
For a country set on becoming carbon neutral by 2040, constant evaluation of its sustainability has become key. “It is intended to expand taxation to cover passengers on cruise ships alongside hotels, recognizing the impact on our seas as well as land," a spokesperson for its Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs told USA Today.
Iceland has long been working on ways to handle the increasing pressure from visitors. Besides a possible fee on visitation that has been talked about for years, some years ago, a nature pass to visit its most famous sites was discussed—but didn't pass. Eventually, an accommodation tax did get put into place, which was suspended during the pandemic. So it was simply a matter of time before a tax was resumed.
The Nordic nation isn’t the only trending destination imposing a visitors' charge. Indonesia has been discussing imposing a tourist tax on hotspot Bali since before the pandemic. Overtourism has had considerable impact on the destination since its reopening—but its latest issues have been with international travelers behaving badly, including defacing property and misbehaving with authorities.
Last week, it announced that starting February 14, 2024, a tax of 150,000 Indonesian rupiah (about $10 USD) will apply to all visitors, including children. “We will use it for the environment, culture, and to build quality infrastructure, so traveling to Bali will be more comfortable and safe,” provincial governor Wayan Koster told Agence France-Presse.
Many destinations build their tourism taxes into hotel stays, with Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Paris all set to increase those fees—the French capital has received approval to triple its fee. On a smaller scale, on October 1, Japan's popular Itsukushima Shrine began implementing a tourist tax on visitors visit the Miyajima island, where the UNESCO World Heritage Site is located, in order to “create a sustainable tourist area that is good to live in and good to visit,” the city of Miyajima's site said, according to USA Today. But at just 100 yen (about $0.67 USD), the tax will likely have minimal effect.
Meanwhile, Venice—the longtime hub for overtourism—has been discussing its daytripper tax for years, and the 5-Euro fee, which will apply to everyone over 14 years old, is now set to be implemented in the spring of 2024.
“We have to show the world that for the first time, something is being done for Venice,” the city’s Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said, according to The New York Times. “There’s always someone who will say it’s not enough, but then nothing is done concretely.”
And that’s precisely the issue with these fees. While they make headlines and call attention to the issues, their true impact is less tangible: the taxes are usually too low to make a dent on travelers' decisions to visit. However, according to as New York University School of Professional Studies Professor Christopher Gaffney, who spearheads an overtourism project, “The taxes can be effective in raising funds that can be applied to infrastructure projects that either create more tourism carrying capacity—such as trash collection and disposal, new transport systems, etc.—or that help to reduce the burden on city services that tourism brings.”
Randy Durband, CEO of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, agrees about the tax usage as mitigation, and says the taxes could be an effective tool to spread out visitation. “If the tax facilitates dispersion of visitors from peak times of day and times of the year to off-peak or shoulder times, they'll work,” he tells CNT. “[But] it's too soon to understand the impacts of these relatively new taxes.”
While overtourism isn’t exactly an issue that can be solved—as Gaffney explains, it's “an ensemble of activities and processes that have no specific origin or end"—he does believes that imposing fees to offset travelers' impacts are likely to increase.
At the very least, the fees will help fuel the economies of these destinations, which is what tourism should do in the first place. “The risks to communities from tourism and tourists are quite high and travelers should be eager to contribute more money to the communities, peoples, and places who open their homes to them,” he says. “Tourism taxes will likely become the norm as policy makers search for ways to mitigate the noxious effects of rampant tourism growth.”