Counting pedestrians at hot sites

In the fall of 2020, the Icelandic Tourist Board decided to increase the number of natural attractions which had automatic pedestrian counting devices. Roughly 20 internet-connected devices were set up, across all counties and have been publishing numbers daily to the tourism data dashboard to track pedestrian traffic on our most precious attraction, nature itself. 


Eruption at Fagradalsfjall. Photo: Ása Steinars via Unsplash

On the 19th of march, a volcanic eruption started a few miles from Reykjavik and immediately locals started to hike towards the then remote location to get a good view of the earth’s core.  


History has taught us (i.e. Stuðlagil) that when a new attraction is located in Iceland and gets a spotlight in foreign media, it is swarmed by tourists which has an adverse effect on nature if preparations are not made. Due to the short distance from the airport and Reykjavík, it was foreseen that this newly born attraction would be heavy-hit by tourists as soon as Iceland lowered its covid restrictions. Therefore, as soon as possible, a path was laid to the volcanic site making it accessible for locals and tourists. It was imperative to set up a counting device as the circumstances were offering something new to analyze, the number of tourists at a nature attraction before the impact of tourism demand starts to build up and settle. This opportunity was grasped and as soon as the path was ready, a counting device was set up on-site, three days from the beginning of the eruption. 


Since then, over 112 thousand hiking tourists have laid the path to visit the glorious site. This number, 112.000 can be broken down into days, hours and even 15 minutes…from day three.  

This gives the tourism industry and the government in Iceland real data to analyze and estimate the rush hour at the site at any given time. It answers such questions as: „Do rainy conditions reduce the number of people?“ or „Is it okay that my group is at the site during rush hour?“ or even „What resources are needed to evacuate the area as quickly as possible?“ Using the analysis tour operators can customize tours for any group at hand. For instance, choosing a time to visit the site when the traffic is expected to be low, or the other way around. Using the data to meet the expectations of the group better for a more positive experience. 


The online counting device on the path towards the Fagradals eruption.

Due to recent development in infrastructure at the site, it was possible to place a new prototype that delivers data every 15 minutes instead of once per day. Receiving the information at this rate furthers the possibilities for tour operators to make sudden changes to the tour, accommodating the needs of the group. E.g. traffic was vastly underestimated at the site and the group is flexible on timing, a restaurant visit can be squeezed in or a stop at the nearby location Seltún, waiting out the sudden high traffic. 


Keeping close track of visitors at nature sites is important to be able to measure the environmental and social pressures that the tourism industry creates on sensitive nature and small Icelandic communities. Furthermore, the data is used as an auxiliary when assessing the dispersion of tourists around Iceland, which is one of the most asked questions the Tourist Board gets: „How many tourists have visited a certain nature site/municipality in the last few months“ Having a reliable answer for that question is and will be of much help in the future.  

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