Sustaining the Okanagan 20: Tourism Lessons from Iceland

Winter or summer, Icelanders send the 7 tourists for every Icelander out to see “nature.” Icelanders have noticed that people from other countries get a kick out of this kind of thing, no matter what the weather. Icelanders are too busy for that stuff. The 326,000 of them have a country to run, plus they need to go shopping. Here’s where they might send you. Note: it’s probably exactly where you’d like to go.

This water flowed through pastures once, until lava covered them. Now it flows twenty kilometres under the lava, before erupting in 300 springs. No sheep farming anymore, but there are compensations.

How beautiful!

Delicate, too.


It’s not that the Icelanders don’t go on holiday. They go up the hill from here, to this.


Birch Forest

These tiny trees once covered the lowlands of the country, but the ancestors of the Icelanders, and their sheep, cut them all down, burned them and munched them 1000 years ago. Those that have regenerated under protection or have been replanted are an abiding symbol of endurance and resurrection. For an Icelander, a holiday among the trees is about as good as it gets. So there are some lessons for the Okanagan here. They are:

  1. A tourism industry doesn’t need “industry partners” or “tourist activities”. It needs something beautiful, someone to show you the way, and someone to grill a lamb for you in a remote location.
  2. People will pay a lot of money to spend fifteen minutes with the earth and its water, and it will change their lives.
  3. Local people want different opportunities than visitors.
  4. When people are too busy to welcome you, don’t worry, their family members will:

p1390520One of the peculiarities of Icelandic travel is the need to be watchful for cars stopped right in the middle of the road and even abandoned there while the occupants get out for a moment with sheep or horses.

Thing is, people don’t need a lot in order to have a profound experience. They need guides, pizza (the Icelandic national dish), wool sweaters, maybe a hamburger (the other Icelandic national dish), an IKEA bed, sheets and a pillow, fried chicken with fries (the third Icelandic national dish) and the occasional place to stop driving, get out, and lean over a fence. In the Okanagan, we send people off to wineries to buy drugs and tell them they are tasting the land, although if we were honest we’d say they are tasting a colonial dream, and then we’d rip out the vineyards to plant Syilx choke cherries, mariposa lily and nodding onion rather than pinots from Southern France, Traminers from Egypt and Rieslings from the Rhine, and say “Welcome to the land. Enjoy that a bit. We’re driving to IKEA in Vancouver for the weekend. If we did, maybe we’d start seeing tour busses parked at the side (well almost) of the road, spilling with travellers running out because Turtle Mountain is reflecting in a puddle, because tour busses do that in Iceland. In Vernon, in the Okanagan, busses bring similarJapanese tourists in by the thousands to buy propolis and royal jelly at the aviary, or a small bag of apples at the faux farm village and gift shop, while the nature they really want to see is just on top of the rocky glaciated upthrust seabed/volcanic outcrop/spirit rock/ancient lakeshore at the top of the orchard, an easy ten minute stroll away. People don’t travel to see colonial culture. They come from it. They want affirmation that the earth is still alive and beautiful.



Surely, we can learn to help them with that.


Categories: Industry, Nature Photography

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