With former US president Bill Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore in the country’s guest book, international media coverage could be causing the Faroes to emerge from obscurity—clearing the way for effective nation branding. Búi Tyril talks to Elin Heinesen, Managing Director of SamVit, Faroe Islands Enterprise, and others.
By Búi Tyril, Faroe Business Report 2008
When a panel of experts with National Geographic Traveler ranked the Faroe Islands as the world’s most appealing island destination, it was a convenient piece of news for the Faroe Islands Enterprise (SamVit), the merged Faroe Islands Trade Council and Faroe Islands Tourist Board.
The special appeared a few months after last summer’s visit of former US President Bill Clinton, and was in all likelihood a direct result of increased awareness of the country. President Clinton arrived with former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix to deliver the keynote speeches at a Tórshavn gathering of businesspeople and officials.
“This is the biggest news to hit the Faroe Islands since Christianity arrived about a thousand years ago,” Canada’s Toronto Star commented when the new broke that Mr Clinton had accepted the invitation from the House of Industry.
One year on, a search engine query on the phrase [Bill Clinton Faroe Islands] returned 21,100 results.
“That’s the point,” said SamVit managing director Elin Heinesen. “The Clinton-Blix event was a huge success and it’s still having a tremendous impact. The effects of such stories need time to filter through but… Well, as you see, this one received extensive media coverage.”
Next move: Get Nobel Peace Prize winner, former Vice President Al Gore featured at a conference on the subject of climate change, marine environment and energy. As this publication went to press, the TransAtlantic Climate Conference was to be held in Tórshavn on 7th and 8th April, featuring Mr Gore as keynote speaker, plus a host of experts from several countries.
“A new initiative focusing on climate changes in the Atlantic Ocean and climate challenges related to the ocean,” the TACC 08 was aimed “particularly at researchers, business people, civil society representatives and politicians in the North Atlantic region and the Nordic countries,” said the organizers—Bitland, House of Industry, SamVit, and NORA.
The idea as envisaged by SamVit: International media could be about to discover the Faroes and should be encouraged to follow through on stories related to the place—which many of them are happy to do as they’ll have a natural interest in catering to their audience’s growing taste for things out of the ordinary.
“What we offer is in demand out there,” Ms Heinesen said. “According to the latest reports on population trends, people living in big cities, for the first time in recorded history, now outnumber people living in rural areas. We’re noting an increased interest from foreign journalists, scientists, businesspeople, and tourists. I think what some of them see in our country is something missing elsewhere, maybe something that used to be there for them but disappeared somewhere along the way. So what the Faroes has is a mix that can bring back that feeling of serenity and yet fascinate at the same time.”
Clearly, whereas mass tourism is not what we’re looking at, business travel and ecotourism are.
Ranking the Faroe Islands on the top of its 111-long list of island destinations—ahead of the Azores and Lofoten with Shetland and Iceland trailing—Traveler quoted its experts in sustainable tourism and destination stewardship on the Faroes: “Lovely unspoiled islands—a delight to the traveler.”
The magazine added: “Remote and cool, and thus safe from overcrowding, the autonomous archipelago northwest of the Shetlands earns high marks from panelists for preservation of nature, historic architecture, and local pride.” Another quote from the panelists: “Spectacular waterfalls and harbors.”
The feature entitled “111 islands” warned against “tourism overkill” and other perils. “The world’s most appealing destinations—islands—are the ones most prone to tourism overkill,” it said. “Islands symbolize vacation. Escape! Their very insularity makes them more attractive than a comparable piece of real estate on the mainland. They are worlds unto themselves—their own traditions, ecosystems, cultures, landscapes. That’s what attracts us. But as microworlds, islands are also more vulnerable to population pressure, climate change, storm damage, invasive species, and now, tourism overkill.
Traveler and its National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations conducted the fourth annual Destination Scorecard survey, aided by George Washington University, “to see how the integrity of islands around the world is holding up. A panel of 522 experts in sustainable tourism and destination stewardship donated time to review conditions in these 111 selected islands and archipelagos.”
Said Ms Heinesen: “The coverage we’ve received will doubtlessly attract more tourists. But beyond that, it helps us in terms of nation branding.”
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