An Icelandic canyon shut down after a Justin Bieber-inspired tourist surge

Fjadrárgljúfur Canyon was unprepared for Beliebers.
Fjadrárgljúfur Canyon was unprepared for Beliebers.
Image: AP Photo/Egill Bjarnason
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Iceland’s majestic Fjadrárgljúfur Canyon was once a relatively little-known destination. It was a place where locals and a few adventurous tourists could go to admire pristine lakes and bedrock formed at the end of the last Ice Age—and disconnect from the outside world.

That is, until Justin Bieber went there.

In 2015, the Canadian singer filmed the music video for his single “I’ll Show You” at Fjadrárgljúfur. The video has since been viewed nearly 450 million times.

“Since then,” writes Lonely Planet writer Sasha Brady, “it’s been overrun by visitors and the intensity of foot traffic has wreaked havoc on its fragile vegetation.” The number of visitors to the canyon nearly doubled between 2017 and 2018, causing damage to the local vegetation and pathways that was exacerbated by changing weather conditions. In response, Iceland’s Environmental Agency closed the canyon for two weeks in March, but later extended the closure until June 1, 2019.

Environment minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson told the Associated Press that it was “a bit too simplistic to blame the entire situation on Justin Bieber,” but said celebrities should be more careful about what happens to the places they promote: “Rash behavior by one famous person can dramatically impact an entire area if the mass follows,” he told the AP.

The canyon’s closure symbolizes a larger problem plaguing Iceland: overtourism. Mass tourism helps drive the country’s economy, but it has also damaged natural attractions and infrastructure, strained the hospitality sector, and raised the price of housing, to the detriment of the nation’s 359,000 or so citizens. According to the Icelandic Tourist Board (pdf), 2.3 million visitors landed in Iceland through Keflavík Airport between March 2018 and February 2019.  That’s about seven tourists for every Icelander.