If Iceland was once a well-kept secret – one reserved for dedicated travellers in search of lunar landscapes, natural hot springs and a plate of puffin or whale – all of that has changed. The Guardian report that the country, which only has a population of around 335,000 people, will receive 1.6 million visitors this year. As such, the Icelandic government will this week weigh up the introduction of tighter rules around Airbnb rentals – potentially restricting landlords from renting out rooms for too long. It's a move that reflects similar measures taken in Berlin, for example, where it is now illegal for locals to rent out their whole apartment on Airbnb. The surge in visitors to Iceland is likely down to increasingly low-fare flights, stopover deals and the popularisation of Game of Thrones, which is set in the country. In fact, guests can now take an official Game of Thrones tour, to "explore the Seven Kingdoms". The problem with the increase of visitors is that Iceland's current infrastructure is unable to cope, and more guests calls for the building of more hotels and car parks at tourist attractions like lagoons and geothermal springs.
In a quote given to the Guardian, a professor in geography and tourism at the University of Iceland named Gunnar þór Jóhannesson pointed out that Iceland only has one, small, main airport (Keflavík) and most visitors just visit Reykjavik, Iceland's capital city. "We are struggling to distribute our tourists around the island,” he said. Meanwhile however, some local people are being forced out of Reykjavik city centre by the influx of tourists. A webstite called Iceland Monitor claims that, in the last year, rentals of Airbnbs in the country have risen by a whopping 156%. This negatively affects the local property market by driving up rental prices, as well as creating a shortage of housing for locals.
Áshildur Bragadóttir, the director of Visit Reykjavík, told the Guardian that she felt the adjustment to Airbnb laws would likely be passed this week “because everyone sees that something needs to change." She added: "We don’t want downtown Reykjavík to be tourists only, with no locals”.