Winner of the annually Icelandic Tourism Research Centre's Dissertation Award

The ITRC dissertation award for 2014 went to Willem Gerrit Tims and his dissertation entitled New Approaches for wilderness perception mapping: a case study from Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland. The award ceremony took place at the annual meeting of The Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF) on March 26th 2015 in Egilsstaðir.

Willem came to Iceland on behalf of the GEM project funded by the Erasmus Mundus program of the European Union. The GEM project is a cooperative venture between the University of Iceland and several universities in Sweden, Poland, England and in The Netherlands. Among the objectives of the GEM project is to enhance master studies in the field of geographic information systems (GIS). Supervision with the program in Iceland was in the hands of Rannveig Ólafsdóttir, professor at the faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Iceland. Rannveig was Willem’s supervisor along with Þorvarður Árnason, director of the University Centre of Hornafjörður.

In his dissertation Willem utilizes GIS in a new and original way to estimate the size of the Icelandic wilderness. His representation of a technically difficult topic is very clear, well explained complimented with quality maps and excellent photos.

Among the data Willem uses are geo-tagged photos posted on the web by tourists. The photos, their number and location in Iceland, he uses assess the perceived wilderness quality of the landscapes. The number of photos can indeed be an indicator of what tourists think about the places they visit. An increase in the number of photos taken in a location should mean that tourists are happy with what they see. Many pictures, happy tourists!

Willem also calculates from which areas man-made structures can be seen, delineating an area which tourists perceive as wilderness. This work shows how geographic information systems can be a powerful tool for planning tourism development and environmental management. Some of the ideas Willem tests work well, others do not, or he concludes that the method must be reformed. It’s what to expect when considering what a new and powerful technology can do.

Willem is currently living in The Netherlands and was unfortunately not able to accept the award. Therefore Kristin Sóley Björnsdóttir, Director of the ITRC was asked to accept the award on his behalf.