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Discover Iceland's journey towards sustainable tourism amidst a tourism boom, and the groundbreaking partnership between Icelandia and VAXA Technologies to offset the carbon emissions of our day tours and transfers.
Written by:
Viktória Komjáti
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Published:
7 May 2024
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In recent years, specifically over the last decade and a half, Iceland has witnessed a significant increase in tourism. Becoming increasingly popular for its unique blend of rugged volcanic landscapes and glacial vistas, our little island nation has attracted a growing number of visitors seeking natural beauty in its most pristine form. However, this surge in popularity brings with it a crucial responsibility: the need to adopt sustainable tourism practices to preserve the environment.

Tourism Trends in Iceland

Iceland, with a population of just around 400,000, has seen a dramatic rise in tourist numbers in the past decade. As one of the largest tour operators in the country, Icelandia’s success is a testament to this growth.

Between 2010 and 2019, tourist arrivals in Iceland increased from fewer than 500,000 to approximately 2.3 million. This growth not only signifies Iceland's increasing popularity but has also reshaped our relationship with the world, positioning us at the forefront of international travel trends.

The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily stopped this tendency, but the rebound in tourism has been robust. By 2024, forecasts indicate that tourist numbers may reach, or even surpass, pre-pandemic levels, making it potentially the busiest year in the history of our tourism.

This increase in visitors, while highlighting Iceland's appeal, also emphasizes the necessity of balancing hospitality with responsible stewardship of the environment. The focus is now on how to manage this surge sustainably, ensuring that our landscapes remain unspoiled for future generations.



How Locals See the Surge in Tourism

Tourism growth played a significant role in the recovery of Iceland’s economy after a severe financial crisis in 2008. Many locals view the tourism boom positively as this growing industry has been creating a wealth of job opportunities. In parts of Iceland where job options used to be as scarce as in the vast tundra, tourism has spurred a flourishing employment scene, for example, in the service sector.

There’s also been an encouraging surge in Icelanders’ interest in their natural heritage. The spotlight from global visitors has led locals to rediscover and appreciate the wonders of our own country. The world’s attention seems to reignite a sense of pride and connection to these natural treasures.

However, this enthusiasm is tempered by concerns about the environment. Surveys show that a significant portion of the local population is worried about the impact of tourism on Icelandic nature.

About three-quarters believe that the pressure on the environment is too great. In a country where the natural landscape is deeply intertwined with national identity and lifestyle, these concerns are profound.


Our Responsibility: Pioneering Sustainable Practices

Upholding sustainable operations is crucial for business success for companies like Icelandia, and our commitment to sustainable operations and responsible travel is naturally part of our business model.

We are aware that modern travellers are increasingly mindful of their environmental footprint. They are more likely to support businesses that are actively engaged in sustainable practices. This change in attitude represents a fundamental transformation in travel behaviour, and we anticipate this trend will only grow stronger.

As Iceland's premier tour operator, we also acknowledge that our role extends beyond offering memorable experiences and maintaining environmental awareness. We are committed to spearheading the movement towards sustainable tourism.

In line with this commitment, we are proud of our significant achievement within the Icelandic tourism landscape: our day tour operations have successfully attained carbon neutrality.

Electric Buses, Young and Modern Fleet

We take pride in operating one of Iceland's largest and most modern bus fleets, which reflects our dedication to sustainability and reducing our environmental impact. The average age of our tour buses is bellow 1,5 years, ensuring that we provide comfort, efficiency, and reduced emissions.

Furthermore, we are actively upgrading our fleet to include more electric vehicles. Two electric buses are currently deployed, and two more will arrive in June, 2024 to operate efficient, eco-friendly pickup and drop-off services throughout the city.

Looking ahead, we plan to extend the use of electric buses to Flybus airport transfers. This initiative is set to significantly decrease the environmental impact of the most frequent travel routes for our visitors.

Investing in the Future: Our Partnership with Vaxa Technologies

Even with our modern fleet, we still emit carbon dioxide, which we are committed to fully offsetting. As we upgrade our vehicles, we are also investing in carbon-negative projects to balance out the carbon footprint of each traveller who chooses us.

We are proud of our recent partnership with VAXA Technologies, a leader in innovative algae farming, to help achieve our carbon offset goals.

Vaxa harnesses the power of Iceland’s largest geothermal plant to produce a unique type of algae, Icelandic Ultra Spirulina (IUS), a 'planet-friendly superfood' that literally uses carbon emissions to grow.

Spirulina cultivation has long been practised around the world, with the US, China, India, and France among the top producers. Recognized for its environmental benefits, spirulina cultivation typically generates lower carbon emissions than traditional agriculture. However, the production of conventional spirulina still requires significant land and water resources.

VAXA's approach is groundbreaking. Their indoor, vertical cultivation technology relies entirely on green energy, uses a fraction of the land, and the water used is recycled back to the power plant, making the cultivation process carbon-negative.

Advanced machine learning optimizes their culture and lighting systems, ensuring controlled growth within a bio-secured, sealed indoor facility. This method eliminates the risk of cross-contamination, ensuring the Icelandic Ultra Spirulina is free of heavy metals, pollutants, and pathogens, and has a neutral taste free of the fishy flavour common in other algae products.

The controlled environment and optimal growing conditions, including tailored light and temperatures, enhance the spirulina’s nutritional content, such as vitamin B12 in a bioavailable form and increased levels of phycocyanin, a potent antioxidant with various health benefits. Thus, IUS provides not only the typical benefits of spirulina—rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals—but also enhanced health advantages due to its superior nutrient profile comparable to beef.

With the world's population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, the traditional reliance on beef and other meats is unsustainable for our planet due to their high environmental impact. Vaxa produces a range of supplements in an environmentally friendly form, aligning with global efforts to reduce pollution and embrace carbon avoidance strategies.

While Vaxa is not aiming to replace beef for meat eaters, the company is committed to offering nutritious alternatives for those looking to reduce their meat consumption and paving the way for future generations to embrace more eco-friendly dietary options.

Furthermore, Vaxa is dedicated to improving access to nutritious food in regions plagued by malnutrition. Currently, around 200 million children worldwide suffer from malnutrition. In a progressive study, they are collaborating with local authorities in Tanzania to incorporate spirulina into children's daily diets by fortifying the porridge supplied by the school and monitoring the health effects and benefits in children.

Every bus filled with visitors helps our small economy thrive through tourism, while also reducing the number of cars on our roads and lessening the burden on our pristine natural environment. Each trip with us contributes to the fight against climate change. With our carbon-neutral tours, the only thing we’re spreading is happiness.

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