Icelandic government policy and tourism growth in peripheral areas: The effects of the Héðinsfjörður tunnels in Fjallabyggð

Þóroddur Bjarnason, Edward H. Huijbens


Tourism has become one of the pillars of the Icelandic economy with a substantial increase in the number of foreign tourists. Tourism has also become the focus of attention in many rural communities where jobs in fisheries and agriculture have declined significantly. A strong and profitable tourism industry is however dependent upon transportation infrastructure. This research evaluates the effects of the Héðinsfjörður tunnels on the flow of tourists in the northern Tröllaskagi region in order to clarify the effects of infrastructure improvements on tourism in peripheral areas. The study employs an integrated methodology of automatic traffic counters, traffic surveys, tourist surveys and official registration of tourist accommodation. The results suggest that the number of tourists in the municipality of Fjallabyggð has grown by about one-half after the opening of the tunnels as the municipality has become part of the Eyjafjörður tourism region and a destination between the capital region and the city of Akureyri. The Héðinsfjörður tunnels thus have contributed to the growth of tourism and a more diverse labor market in an area suffering from a decline in population and the primary industries. The tunnels have however had a limited impact in Skagafjörður and possibilities of a continuous tourism region spanning the area from Sauðárkrókur in the west to Húsavík in the east and from Siglufjörður in the north to Akureyri in the south have not yet been realized. Such changes do not automatically follow infrastructure improvements but depend on a coordinated effort of government and local actors.


Tourism; transportation infrastructure; Fjallabyggð.

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