Tourism is now the fastest-growing industry in the Faroe Islands. We therefore need to prepare to meet increasing demands. Our strategy is to build on our strengths and to focus on developing a lucrative tourism which at the same time is sustainable and does not affect our nature and culture in a negative way.
By Elin Heinesen, Managing Director of SamVit – Faroe Islands Enterprise, 2007
As part of a new political strategy the Faroese Government decided to merge the Trade Council and Tourist Board in the beginning of this year. This was done in the realisation of the fact that development of trade and tourism can depend on each other in many ways. This new organisation was named SamVit – Faroe Islands Enterprise, and in May they appointed me, Elin Heinesen, as managing director of the organisation.
Unspoiled Territory to Explore
What advantages do the Faroe Islands have as a travel destination? The fact that our country is a small archipelago in the middle of the big ocean in the periphery of western society makes us quite unique and special. Many consider islands in the ocean to be exotic and romantic by default. And being special means a lot these days where we see tourists looking more and more for special activities and cultural, adventurous or spectacular experiences rather than just lazing in the sun. It seems that people are starting to turn their eyes to the north rather than the south. Maybe it is because people feel safer travelling north than south these days. And since the northern countries have seen far less of mass tourism, there is more unspoiled territory to explore.
We Mustn’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water
So in a way, the Faroes sell themselves as a tourist destination, but since we have not really developed a real tourism industry yet, it is essential that we do our best to meet this ever-increasing demand. However, it is also very important that we emphasise sustainable tourism and avoid the negative impact of mass tourism. We must be very careful not to ‘loose our soul’ in our efforts to build a lucrative tourism industry, because it is our purity, authenticity and uniqueness that gives us a competitive advantage.
Tourism Creates Ground for Other Industries
In the Faroe Islands today we are very dependent on our export of fish products, but we cannot go on counting solely on fishery as a main source of income. The fishing industry can be very unreliable. World market prices vary a lot and right now we are experiencing that some species of fish, which have been important resources, are simply disappearing from the sea. The question whether it is because of global warming or something else remains to be answered.
Under any circumstances we really need to stimulate growth in other fields and develop other kinds of industries. Opening up the Faroe Islands as a tourist destination is one of our goals, because the tourist industry can lead to so much more and create grounds for other industries as well.
A New Course for the Tourism Industry
It is very important to organise and improve the services on offer in this country and try to inspire and develop ideas for more services. On the one hand we must develop new services and activities and, on the other hand, increase bed capacity, because demand is surpassing the amount of activities and accommodations on offer for visitors. The Faroese do not have a long tradition for a travel industry as such, so we need to make people in the Faroes more aware of the fact that they can earn a living from tourism. SamVit has set out to improve this and many other things that affect our international relations.
The Internet Plays a Vital Role
In order to achieve our goals, Internet marketing should play a vital role. People are no longer so dependent upon travel agencies to plan their trip; this can now be done in your own time on your computer screen by means of the Internet. And more and more people seek such information of their own accord. It is essential that we work more thoroughly on market segmentation and make relevant interactive functions available on the internet in our future marketing efforts. We are working right now on developing portals on the internet which will target both local networks in the Faroes and potential customers.
The Faroese travel industry needs to start thinking of the Internet as an integral part of their marketing strategy and show the world what they have to offer. At the moment, a wealth of information is out there in the middle of nowhere, but it should be in the middle of everything. That is why we’re already working on developing various new internet marketing strategies. In principle, a Faroese website carries the same weight on the internet as, for instance, an American one. Until recently, you were unlikely to find any material about the Faroes at your local travel agency. Today the Faroes, like everything else, are just a click away.
But to make people in the outside world aware of our websites we, of course, have to have effective strategies. This is a very small country and our budgets are equally small – so we must know how to get attention in a way that is not too costly. We have to rely heavily on editorial mentioning, so we work very hard to build up a contact network with journalists all over the world that might be interested in the Faroe Islands – and give them something to write home about.
Inspired by the Irish Model
As for strategies regarding the strengthening of tourism as an industry, the Irish tourism model has been a good source of inspiration for us. At the FlyFaroe 2007 convention this spring, travel writer Eoghan Corry spoke about the recent rise of Irish tourism. He explained how the primitive folk image of Ireland was turned into a strength. The Irish simply realised the potential of what they could offer and they soon started utilising these strengths. As an example, Irish folk music and dance, which once was heard and seen only in the country, are now lucrative global industries.
But what exactly did they do? In 1987, the Irish Government started an economic reform in which corporate taxes were reduced from 33% to 10%. This immediately attracted foreign investment, which in turn acted as a catalyst for Irish tourism. One consequence of this reform was that people started opening their homes to foreign travellers and making a business out of it. This led to a great increase in bed capacity in hotels and B&Bs, and tourist numbers started rocketing. The fact that people could get in contact with the local people in this way, along with the slightly primitive image the Irish projected, has led to a lucrative tourism industry, which now contributes greatly to the national economy.
Our Cultural Heritage as an Attraction
The Irish people themselves also received input from the visitors, so everyone was a winner. Expanding the range of B&Bs also proved essential in breathing new life into the smaller, peripheral villages. For many years, Irish tourism had seen mainly backpackers with limited travel budgets. In order to attract the more wealthy travellers, the tourist board set up campaigns aimed specifically at mature and wealthy people. By utilising their rich cultural heritage they managed to attract more differentiated demographics.
It seems obvious to me that the Faroes can benefit from doing this too. We share many of the Irish characteristics in this respect, and we can easily make this an industry where many local people can earn a living just like the Irish. So we are working on making an advertising campaign next year informing people about the benefits of housing tourists in their own homes. Simultaneously we’re trying to influence the political system so that these people will receive some tax incentives by doing so.
The Real Picture is Rough and Dramatic
For many years, a visit to the Faroe Islands meant peace and tranquillity, or at least that’s what the literature indicated with its sunny, peaceful and polished landscape pictures. But it seems that peace and tranquillity – or polished landscape pictures – are not always the best selling points in tourism marketing campaigns for the Faroe Islands. In fact, peace and tranquillity often equal boredom in many people’s eyes – probably precisely the people who really need peace and tranquillity the most – stressed-out people in big cities and metro poles. But they might not realise that – not until they experience in flesh and blood what peace and tranquillity really means. Peace and tranquillity is probably not the main reason why people want to come here. Most people seem more concerned by what there is to do while they’re here. They want a variety of activities to choose from.
And they don’t necessarily find the polished picture of the Faroe Islands attractive. The real picture is also, in fact, much more rough and dramatic. For example, when foreign photographers come here, the resulting pictures are typically of misty or stormy and rough landscapes. So why not make that the attraction. I think we have been promoting the wrong image of our country. No doubt about it, this is a beautiful country, and most of the people who come here know it. But that’s no longer enough. People need to know about the real Faroe Islands – and they don’t want to sit back and watch: they want to feel alive and vibrant. In other words, they want exciting experiences.
Sea Angling – an Exciting Activity on Offer
There are plenty of activities on offer for tourists, but SamVit and other players on the tourism field are working hard to introduce even more. For example, sea angling has become very popular of late. Local fishermen take tourists out on their boats and the tourists have the opportunity to taste the Faroese fisherman’s life and catch their own fish. Afterwards, they are offered a nice meal made from the fish they caught.
Halibut, porbeagle sharks, good-sized haddock… they’re all here in the nutrient-rich waters of the Faroe Islands. UK’s main fishing operator, Kings Angling Holidays is convinced and UK’s largest Sea Angling magazine “Sea Angler” who visited the Faroe Islands in June has a clear view: As more and more skippers start to specialise in sport fishing and more anglers visit these wonderful islands, only then will the full sport fishing potential of this excellent destination be discovered.
Unforgettable Experiences on the Faroes
Some offers have existed for many years. Worth mentioning are the tours to the magnificent Vestmannabjørgini, that have been among the favourites with tourists for a long time. In a small boat, people sail past massive cliffs rising from the sea – an experience which few will ever forget.
Another classic excursion is the “concerto grotto”, where musicians and visitors go on a boat trip into one of the deep caves under the islands. Once inside, the music starts, and the natural sounds and unique acoustics of the caves are used as integral parts of the music.
But new offers are on their way. Sea angling is – as I said – about to become an established activity on offer, while many other activities are still just good ideas and need further development.
Extreme Tourism and Ecotourism on their Way
For some years now, some tourists have come to the Faroes to enjoy some of the more unusual niche activities, such as diving in sub-sea caves, but this has not yet developed into an established service on offer. A couple of months ago, Faroese TV interviewed some American surfers who had come to our islands to try our waves. They were amazed that no-one seemed to have noticed the potential for surfing on the islands. Other extreme sports such as rock climbing and base jumping are also possible offers we could develop. These activities are not yet part of the mainstream offers to visitors, but this is another area of interest to SamVit.
There are other specialised forms of tourism on the horizon. Ecotourism, for instance, lies close to our hearts. TIES, The International Ecotourism Society, defines ecotourism as, “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” Ecotourism is one of the fastest-growing forms of tourism today. With all the unspoiled scenery in Faroe Islands, and with tourist numbers increasing every year, it is of utmost importance that we do everything we can to prevent the negative effects of mass tourism. So ecotourism will be, and already is, a priority for Faroese tourism in the future.
All in all – we can expect a great increase in the number of tourists over the next few years, so we must prepare. That is exactly what we’re trying to do, and we’re very excited about it.
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