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The Faroe Islands received a lot of attention in February when it announced the archipelago was “closing for maintenance.”
The islands, which are a self-governing part of Denmark, offered to host 100 visitors from around the world (airfare not included) for a weekend of clean-up and voluntourism efforts. About 3,500 people applied within days of the announcement.
The idea of the campaign isn’t just putting the area on the map, although there is that, but, Levi Hanssen, content and communications manager for Visit Faroe Islands, said, the aim is “to get people to come and help us preserve what we have. We want to grow sustainably and signal to other places to do the same.”
Closed for Maintenance is just the latest in a series of quirky creative campaigns that the remote Scandinavian destination, where the sheep population far exceeds the human one, has unfurled to the world in the past five years.
And Faroe Islanders (the human ones) are not at all sheepish about the cheeky campaigns, two of which have taken on Google. In fact, locals — both human and ovine — are encouraged to take part in the effort.
While the Faroe Islands may not seem like a luxury destination at first glance, it certainly fits Skift’s definition. For starters, it’s not overrun by visitors and it’s quiet. UK luxury agency Black Tomato offers the destination as part of a twin-center trip with Copenhagen. A Michelin-starred restaurant opened in 2011, and there are a number of interesting small hotels.
And recent marketing efforts have started making noise. The wave of creativity began with the hiring of Visit Faroe Islands Director Guðrið Højgaard, one of Politico.eu’s Class of 2019, a list of “28 people shaping, shaking, and stirring Europe.”
(Among her better-known colleagues on the list are UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko, and Niklas Zennström, the co-founder of Skype.)
The tourism marketing veteran had worked in Sweden and Denmark before returning home to the Faroe Islands in 2012. There, she took on the mantle of director of tourism and CEO of Visit Faroe Islands.
“When I came back, the job was to put the Faroe Islands on the map,” said Højgaard.
The first action of business was reorganizing the tourism board. “The previous group had done everything they could, but they had a very small budget, which was used only on marketing to nearby markets [mainly in Scandinavia]. There was no visibility abroad. On my first day, I made a to-do list, with new mission statement, a strategy, and a brand promise.”
There was also the matter of beefing up the budget and getting political buy-in. “My job was to convince politicians, through making a business case, for them to put money in tourism.” After two months, “we got the politicians to double the marketing budget [to $2.2 million.]”
Access to politicians is certainly easier in a small place. On the other hand, “when you are very small,” Højgaard said, “you have to be far more creative to get out your message out to the world.“
When Højgaard came on board, the quest was to find out what people thought of the destination.
“We asked visitors to define the Faroe Islands in one word,” said Hanssen. “They would say unspoiled, unexplored, unbelievable. We saw a pattern taking place and we became the un-destination. That kicked things off and became the basis for one of the first branding campaigns we did.”
Even with the newfound publicity, the un-destination continued to be largely undiscovered by Google. The technology giant hadn’t even bothered to stop by to create images for Street View. Visit Faroe Islands’ answer: strapping cameras to hundreds of sheep for a Faroese version of Street View.
Next target: Google Translate. The tech behemoth didn’t include the Faroese language among its Translate options. So in 2017, in another campaign designed to nudge Google — and to save the language — the tourism board launched Faroe Islands Translate, using local volunteers to provide live, custom translations to the curious.
In two months, 41 percent of the population pitched in to translate 1.3 million words. This campaign cost $224,000 (€200,000.) It received $22 million (€20 million) in publicity value and generated 1.3 billion media impressions. And it won another Cannes Golden Lion for the Faroe Islands in 2018.
But the Faroe Islands isn’t just developing creative marketing campaigns. It’s also designing inventive tourism experiences. Both aspects require “taking advantage of your situation and what you are,” said Højgaard.
For example, she cited living room concerts, a concept deriving from old traditions, as a popular activity that allows for authentic interaction between locals and visitors. The tourism activities related to long-time traditions include storytelling and knitting bees and home dining.
According to Stewart Colovin, chief creative officer for MMGY Global, these kinds of campaigns are successful because “it goes back to being true to what the place is. These are simple ideas borne out of something near and dear to them. Because it starts with something true to who they are, it resonates.” Colovin said that a marketing lesson larger destinations can learn from the Faroe Islands is “don’t overthink it.”
For the Faroe Islands, keeping it real has resulted in success.
“There has been a stable increase in the number of visitors arriving in the last four or five years,” said Hanssen.
“There’s also been great development in our tourism industry – restaurants are popping up, and the locals are interested in offering services to tourists, including guiding and home hospitality. SAS started flying directly from Copenhagen last year, and Atlantic Airways has a new route to Paris (starting in July). And that’s the whole idea behind our strategy — to make tourism a new economic engine beyond fish and fish farming.”
What’s next for the Faroe Islands?
“Our new strategy to lead the destination towards 2025 combines the words preserve, evolve, [and] solution into Preservolution. It’s a new perspective on tourism with preservation at its core,” said Højgaard.