Edward H. Huijbens* - Icelandic Tourism Research Centre
This paper explores how clusters have been promoted in Icelandic tourism policy and development. Varied manifestations exist of how clusters are being promoted in different policy contexts. In the wake of the Icelandic financial meltdown in autumn 2008, the government hosted a series of meetings around the country to underpin their Vision 20/20 strategy for regional development. Tourism was top of the agenda in all regions outside the capital and the way it was to be promoted was through facilitating cluster development. Regional growth agreements were signed and completed creating the framework for these. This in turn got translated into the national tourism strategy, where tourism clusters are to mapped and promoted akin to cluster being developed for fisheries and the geo thermal energy sector.
With is now seen as a central pillar of the national economy. Clustering is construed as the central means to success. Thus the paper proceeds with a critical evaluation of the cluster concept. Focus is on North Iceland, where the cluster approach to general regional development and tourism has been used for the longest and gone through two successive stages. This case underpins the central argument of the paper that cluster thinking by the Icelandic government is merely being paid lip-service to, with no serious effort to work out the theory in practice. The paper argues that this stems from a lack of engagement with regional socio-spatial specificities. Thus the paper concludes with questioning the efficiency of top-down governance approach in enhancing regional tourism development.