By Yanshu Li

After flying nearly 8000 kilometers from Beijing to Reykjavik, the tourists were experiencing an increasing excitement while the airplane descended. Through the window, they saw the land of wonder unveiled by the tip of the Reykjanes peninsula. The sheer beauty of Icelandic nature was about to become real.

They were a group of seven, renting two jeeps heading to the south in September. Little did they know, the two drivers were fined approx. $770 for driving off-road.

Ugly tire tracks embedded in the pitch-black lava field that took hundreds of years to form. 90,000 square meters of the land was damaged.

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Tire Tracks left on the field due to the illegal off-road driving Photo credit to Christian JÓN at VISIR.IS, Sept 28, 2015

It is illegal to drive off-road in Iceland, and the tourists were given clear instruction by the car rental company before they hit the road.

That was not the sole incident that happened. Two months earlier, a foreign motorist, whose nationality were unrevealed, was fined for $1,100 for driving off-road and causing damage to sand field and delicate vegetation by tire tracks. This motorist’s reckless behavior was caught by another motorist and was reported to the police in the eastern Iceland.

When the police asked why they did it, the answer would usually be “I didn’t know it was prohibited.”

They are foreigners; they don’t read Icelandic. They want to enjoy the nature, as much as they could – by as much as what they know.

“Damage like this does not repair itself, and it can take years for the tracks to disappear. In the meantime the view and natural beauty have been destroyed for everyone else,” the Icelandic Magazine wrote.

It is not only concern about nature but also the concern for the safety of the travelers. There were also many cases that the tourists ignored the on-site warning board, and stepped on the steaming wetland near the geyser just to take pictures. It can be vital if they get burned by the hot water, which happened multiple times.

 

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Tourists stand inside the hot wetland of Geysir, taking photos. Photo Credit to Anna Andersen @ Reykjavik Grapevine, Sept 4, 2014

Tourism has become a major revenue generator in Iceland in recent years. It even surpassed the fishery industry in 2014, contributing 27.9% in the exportations of goods and services sector. In 2014,  the average spent per person was $1529.22 according to the report released in April 2015 by Icelandic Tourism Board. It is expected to hit a million-milestone of international visitors in 2015.

That is to say, if the Icelandic government wants to boost the G.D.P., it needs the support from the tourism industry, at least for now.

It is the pure nature that makes the tourists come and come again to the latitude of 64 north to see the dancing green light, various colors of moss, and the magic combination of glacier and volcano. Would it be ironic if the core of Icelandic tourism to be destructed by those who are attracted?

France, another tourist heaven, has been overcoming similar issues.

The famous Lascaux, a set of complex caves, was discovered in 1940. It contains the Paleolithic cave paintings that date back an estimated 17,300 years ago.

It’s open to the public eight years after its discovery, without the anticipation of a thousand visitors daily who bring carbon dioxide, heat, humidity and other contaminations. Poor preservation strategy caused visual damage to the paintings and introduced lichen. It had to be closed for restoration in 1963.

Learning the lesson from Lascaux, Chauvet Cave was strictly restricted access right after its discovery in 1994.

Now they both have recreation sites for tourism purpose.

The replica of Chauvet cave opened in April. It expects 350,000 visitors a year, so it won’t take long to cover the $59 million cost of replicating the original.

To put it in a nicer way, a replica provides the basic needs from those who are intrigued by art and humanity. But it might not suffice for serious interest.  Jonathan Jones, a British art critic and Turner Prize jury, wrote for The Guardian in April suggesting the people read the full report of Chauvet Cave done by the French prehistorian Jean Clottes, and watch Werner Herzog’s film Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

“When it comes to Chauvet, it is better to look at photographs and films than fall for a fake.” Jones wrote.

 

Massive tourist traffic came as pretty figures into the financial reports of businesses, and the government. While it caused problems in the preservation of culture heritage, it also disturbed and annoyed the residents.

In May, the French government approved a group visiting visa for 6,400 visitors from a Chinese company treating its employees to a holiday. In return, it will pump $15 million into the French economy from the tourists’ spending in the four-day visit.

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Chinese company treats its 6,400 employees a French vacation in Nice. Photo Credit to Lionel Cironneau @ AP

 

Nicolas Wasilewski is a Parisian young man who loves traveling. He goes to the museums very often. But he didn’t go out much in those days just to avoid the crowds. He knows the approval was good for economy and relation among the two nations, although it was a short period of deranged life for those who lived in the city.

“Basically, to me it’s not traveling, it’s consuming,” he said to me.

Similar to the Japanese tourists in the 90s, the robust economic growth in China in the recent decade allowed the Chinese nationals confidence to spend on traveling far and often. More and more tourists choose to buy luxuries overseas to avoid paying higher taxes in the mainland. It is no longer news that in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, and Paris that the waiting line would be there before the shops open, and many of the customers speak Mandarin.

In Hong Kong, for example, the mass tourists shopping group disturbed the local life. The tension got serious in past years while some confrontation happened between residents and tourists. Some locals complained that the surge of buying power from the influx increased the price level in the already expensive places such as Hong Kong.     

The Chinese tourists are merely an extreme example of holiday spending because they behaved in a high-profile manner. Especially the temptation of the domestic traveling wanes while more people can afford to spend overseas.

Globally, traveling abroad is continually increasing. Concerning overseas, travel is possibly the case that those countries were merely known for the tourism reputation. People flock there to find out more while they carry less differentiation of the cultures and the regulations.

 

Income from tourism is good money. The money will continue to be good only if it is sustainable. For tourists, being sustainable means enjoying the trip without exploiting the chances of others.

 

Because people will always travel.

 

My friend, Le Shao, an office lady in a state-owned company in China, is in Paris right now, and she sent a message to me saying it can cure the cervical spondylosis, because there are so much to see on the ceiling, and over the tops of churches and palaces.

She stays in Paris for four days, which she thinks it’s too short time. She went there nonetheless, as one member of a 35-visitor group under a condensed traveling plan.

“In fact, you can see the hi-resolution pictures of every tourist spot online. But when you actually stand on the land, the feeling is profound,” she said.

She wants to enjoy the visual feast in the museums, to experience the history, culture, and to meander on the Parisian streets.

“I was lucky,” she said to me in content. “I walked along the Seine in the rain. ”

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Walking along the Seine, Paris, Oct 25, 2015. Photo Credit to Le Shao


 

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