Following the ice: adaptation processes of glacier tour operators in Southeast Iceland

  • Johannes WellingEmail author
  • Bruno Abegg
Special Issue: Climate, Tourism and Recreation


The growing recognition that global climatic change is a pressing reality and that its impacts on humans and ecological systems are inevitable makes adaptation a core topic in climate change research and policymaking. The glacier tourism sector that is highly sensitive towards changing climatic conditions is among the most relevant in this respect. This study aims to examine empirically how adaptation to climate change impacts is practiced by small- and middle-scale glacier tour operators. Data was collected by means of a set of semi-structured interviews with the managers or owners of nine small- or middle-scale tour companies operating in the Vatnajökull National Park in Southeast Iceland and observations of glacier sites where the respondents’ companies are operating. The results indicate that all entrepreneurs consider climate change to be a real phenomenon that affects their present daily operations, but they perceive these implications not as significant threats to their business. The interaction of operator’s attributes of agency such as firsthand experiences, risk perceptions, and abilities to self-organize, with structural elements of the glacier destination system such as economic rationales and hazard reduction institutions, has shaped and consolidated operators’ adaptation processes in the form of a wait-and-see strategy combined with ad hoc reactive adaptation measures and postponed or prevented proactive long-term adaptation strategies.


Adaptation Climate change Glacier tourism Iceland Tour operators Adaptation Decision-making 



We would like to thank our anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions.

Funding information

This research received financial support from the Icelandic Tourism Research Centre, the Friends of Vatnajökull, and the Hornafjörður Research Centre.

Supplementary material

484_2019_1779_MOESM1_ESM.docx (18 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 17.9 kb)


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Copyright information

© ISB 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Haskoli IslandsReykjavíkIceland
  2. 2.Institute for Systemic Management and Public Governance, Research Center Tourism and TransportUniversity of St. GallenGallenSwitzerland

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