What’s the hype about?

The Faroe Islands have suddenly received a lot of media attention – why has this happened?

Interview with Elin Heinesen, Managing Director of SamVit – Faroe Islands Enterprise (Faroe Islands Trade & Tourism Council) 4. March 2008:

– These are really exciting times in the Faroe Islands. Never before in all of history, have the Faroe Islands been more visible in such a short space of time as in recent months. I can mention a few examples: In October 2007 Bill Clinton came to visit for a lecture and the world press turned its eyes towards us. Clinton talked very enthusiastically about the Faroe Islands – especially in terms of environmental issues – and he declared that he was now an unofficial ambassador for the Faroe Islands.

– Immediately after his visit, National Geographic Traveler named the Faroe Islands as the most appealing island destination out of a shortlist of 111 island communities. This result was reached by a panel of 522 experts in geotourism. (see: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/traveler/features/islandsrated0711/islands.html). This has resonated in the world press and provided us with priceless publicity.

– The G! Festival – a music festival which takes place in the middle of an idyllic Faroese village surrounded by spectacular nature – was claimed to be the second-best music festival in Europe by several European music magazines (only the Roskilde Festival in Denmark ranked higher). (see http://www.gfestival.com). The Icelandic artist Bjørk has written a song called “Declare independence” about the Faroe Islands and Greenland. During live performances the Faroese and Greenlandic flags were raised onstage. An happening, which for a while created quite a lot of media attention. (See the music video here: http://youtu.be/pXVlQTC2yB0 )

– But the Faroese are also trying to take over the world themselves. The Faroese band ‘Boys in a Band’ won the Global Battle of the Bands competition in London in 2008, earning them the prize of $ 100,000 and a world tour. They blow the house down with their infectious enthusiasm and energy and receive praise from reviewers wherever they perform. (see: http://www.clashmusic.com/news/success-boys-band and www.myspace.com/boysinaband) The Faroese singer-songwriter Teitur won the title of male vocalist of the year in Denmark at last year’s Danish Music Awards (http://www.teitur.com) and the Faroese singer Lizzie (Ramt i Natten) and the Faroese band The Dreams (http://www.thedreams.dk) have climbed to the top of Danish charts in 2008 while Eivør (http://www.eivor.com), another Faroese singer, continues to receive a number of Danish and Icelandic nominations and awards. Faroese singer Jógvan also won the Icelandic version of the talent show X-Factor and has participated in the local Icelandic Eurovision Song Contest. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bW0BHqFAa8M). And Brandur, also a Faroese singer songwriter, participated in Melodifestivalen – the Swedish nominations for the Eurovision Song Contest. (http://www.brandur.com)

– And the world wants to come to us too. Guðrun & Guðrun managed to get the international fashion press to fly to the Faroe Islands in January to participate in a fantastic fashion show in an airplane hangar at the airport which received rave reviews. (You can watch the show here: http://www.gudrungudrun.com). In April, Nobel laureate, former presidential candidate, and one of the world’s leading environmental activists, Al Gore, visited the Faroe Islands as the keynote speaker at the TransAtlantic Climate Conference – an event that also drew the eyes of the world to the Faroe Islands. (See http://www.tacc2008.com) The world-famous Canadian rocker Bryan Adams performed at a big out-door concert in Tórshavn in June (See http://www.bryanadams.org/english/tour-ticket) And later Sporty Spice from the Spice Girls; Melanie, came and had a concert at the Summarfestivalurin in the beginning of August. (Added later: And in 2010 Elton John was in Tórshavn having a concert: http://youtu.be/W7q3crX1Vrw) Et cetera, et cetera.

– The international press has started to notice the Faroe Islands. It is not unusual to hear journalists make statements like the one Eric Campbell from Australian TV-show ‘Foreign Correspondent’ made, “The Faroe Islands could very well be the world’s next country!” (See the show here: http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2007/s2050734.htm) On of the world’s leading experts in nation branding, Simon Anholt, similarly said, “The Faroe Islands is the Shangri La of the 21’st century!” In a New York Times article in 2007 with the headline, “Into the Mystical Unreal Reality of the Faroe Islands”, the Faroe Islands were described as “the most curious place left on earth” and the journalist Stephen Metcalf described his impression such: “The Faroes are easily the most moodily beautiful place I have ever been”. (Read the article here: http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/03/25/travel/tmagazine/03well.faroes.t.html)

Where is all this hype surrounding the Faroe Islands coming from?
– There is reason to believe that there perhaps is a growing demand for what we have to offer. We can see that from the increase in attention we’re getting from e.g. journalists and researchers. However, we have also ourselves been trying to generate exposure. We have the talent, we have the technology and we are putting our story forward in the right places. We still haven’t seen the big boom, because it is comparatively expensive or difficult to get to the Faroe Islands for most people in the world. The economic crisis in the world right now is also affecting us, of course. But we have seen during many years now that the number of visitors is growing every year. And there is an increasing number of people who offer to be enthusiastic ambassadors for the Faroe Islands. People seem to be looking for someone/somewhere like us because we are a little bit different to the rest of the world.

– We may be perceived as a little bit strange, because many people consider us to be remote – but we are actually in a great strategic position in the shipping lane between the two wealthiest continents in the world and are only a couple of hours’ flight from the big cities in Northern Europe. There is still something to be said about our remoteness, because our relative isolation from the outside world for centuries has meant that we have been able to preserve ancient traditions. You could say that the ‘backwardness’ of the Faroe Islands mixed with the sudden modernisation and globalisation of society has pleased the Faroe Islands in a unique position compared to other countries – we are both extremely old-fashioned and extremely modern at the same time. We are in the middle of the modern world with our feet firmly planted in tradition – and we are using this to our advantage.

– This contrast gives us a very strong identity that some envy us; the people who visit to experience this, can see and feel this in everything we do. It fascinates people because it is rare in the world of today. Most other countries in the modern western world have been quick to break with tradition and may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater in the name of modernisation, but we are proud of our heritage. There are probably not that many places in the world where young people think it is ‘cool’ to wear their national dress on national holidays, but in the Faroe Islands they do while living a life that is just as globalised as the rest of the modern world, messaging on their mobile phones, Skype and gaming on the Internet and iPods..

But will you not lose your special national identity, like so many other peoples, when globalisation really starts affecting your life?
– We are aware of the danger. There are many Faroese people who do not value the Faroese traditions and wish to distance themselves from the ‘old’ and would like all of society to become fully globalised and hyper-modern as soon as possible. But there are also many who would like to hang on to the things that make us special or unique, since they consider those things the main reason why we have survived on these islands for so long. I think it is possible to combine things – to be modern and traditional at the same time. We are in the middle of forming a new identity. I see it as an advantage that we are lagging a bit behind other countries in some areas because that means that we can learn from others and perhaps avoid making mistakes that others have made. There will always be risk associated with all development, but we cannot isolate ourselves only to preserve a strong identity. No Faroese people wish to be exhibits in an anthropological museum. Globalisation will affect us, whether we want it to or not, and the Faroese would also like to share the advantages that globalisation brings.

– But globalisation – in the sense of global warming and limited natural resources in general – do of course mean that we are also facing a lot of very demanding challenges. Our traditional sources of income are becoming too unreliable. The main industry – the fishing industry – is in a deep crisis at the moment with fast increasing expenses and growing demands from the consumers and low prizes on the world market, as well as a lack of work force. As the educational level in the society rises fewer people want to work in fish factories. And if we’re not up for the sustainability challenge markets could close they’re doors on us in an instance – some have already done that, like the Russians. It could be the beginning of a tendency to blacklist our fish products in other countries as well. We really need to find other more sustainable ways of harvesting our resources that can produce a substantial sustainable income, fast. And I am thinking of both natural and creative resources. What we must do, is to change… or die…! There is no other way.

– What is happening now, is that we are trying to move into a new age in an intelligent way that will provide economic growth in the Faroe Islands while at the same time keeping some of the old values and traditions – even using them as a prime resource! We would like to make society more open and accessible, but in a way that will enable us to preserve the values that we have. Tourism has interesting aspects in that respect. But we need to go about it wisely. We feel that this is possible by e.g. creating long-term strategies for tourism that will emphasise creating services and offers for the visitors that are based on what is here already rather than killing our traditions and change society to achieve some international modern norm – in a mistaken assumption of what we ‘think’ the modern tourist or other guests would expect and demand. We must not go too far in modernising that we ruin the very things that make us different and therefore interesting/attractive in the eyes of others. I do think that we can strike a balance.

– We can choose to appeal to geo-tourists and eco-tourists who prefer to visit places that make an effort to preserve the environment and original values. Eco-tourists are very interested in local culture and history and consciously decide to buy from the locals and live in locally-owned hotels and guesthouses. Their contribution to the local economy is therefore several times the amount that a typical mass-tourist would spend. We are privileged to have the opportunity to welcome tourists with modern conveniences with three and four star hotels, gourmet restaurants and café-life in Tórshavn, but we can also offer them to go to the small villages and islands in the immediate vicinity of Tórshavn where they can participate in traditional Faroese farming life, which to them would be a different and interesting experience – to herd the sheep, building boats or rappelling from ropes on the cliff face. In this way the tourist can even be involved in reviving traditions that are threatened and inject life in the outlying islands where the population is dwindling – dwindling because the traditional village life and work is no longer profitable. It may now become profitable again through tourism.

What do you consider the strengths of the Faroese people?
– The Faroe Islands is a bubbling cauldron of creativity. The concentration of artists and creative people is remarkable considering the number of inhabitants. I think it has something to do with the cocktail of a wild, raw, achingly beautiful nature and strong traditions mixed with globalisation which all creates a synergy that boosts creativity – especially among young people who are more global in their way of thinking than the older generations and therefore have a better understanding of how people think outside the Faroe Islands. They can use this to their advantage. The Faroe Islands is a combination of many powerful ingredients that are hitting a nerve right now. The zeitgeist works in our favour.

– I also feel that the Faroe Islands has the potential to attract lots of creative people who can let themselves be inspired by the contrasts and the special energy that exists in the Faroe Islands. For a number of years, we have seen how artist are drawn to the Faroe Islands. Nowadays, when modern daily life makes such demands of people’s creativity, a broader group of people than just artists can benefit from an ‘inspirational’ visit to the islands. This is one of the areas where we can market ourselves. We just need the imagination to compile the right packages of experiences that we can sell to the right nice-markets. And we need the imagination to tell all the good stories about our products in general too.

– The pool of talent and the production facilities are here and they can produce quality that carry the possibility of creating awareness out there. So the attention will come, as long as the products reach the right respondents in the right way. Firstly, the consumer needs to have the opportunity to be introduced to what is on offer. Then we need to make it as easy as possible for them to find out more about the products that they are interested in – the stories and people behind the product. In this respect, we at SamVit – Faroe Islands Enterprise can pull the load, or rather just push it and it will roll, because the story of the Faroe Islands almost sells itself at the moment. We only need to get others to tell the story for us. We have a multitude of ‘ambassadors’ who would be more than happy to tell our story – and this is more credible than if we tell it ourselves. The quotes and statements need to be collected and made more visible; we can do that e.g. through our websites and in our general correspondence with the world in general.

But the Faroe Islands is still only a small country with very limited resources. Can you really become a player on the massive global marketplace?
– Yes, I think so. With the technology, internet communication and transport opportunities that exist today, the Faroe Islands can enter the global market on completely different terms than were possible a few years ago. It has become easier to exchange products across boundaries and continents – material and immaterial products. However, the confusion in the market is also great, because the supply is so great. It is confusing to have too many products to choose between. If we look at supply, in general, it is so great that it is impossible to get to grips with. So there is a trend to dive into smaller markets.

– We therefore see a trend from macro to micro – i.e. the consumers buy more and more locally produced products – e.g. beer from micro-breweries which when considered as a group amount to serious competition for the major international breweries. The consumers are diving into the big market to find smaller markets, because that makes things much more manageable and easy to identify with. People want their lives to be simpler. This can work to our advantage.

– Globalisation has generally favoured mass-manufacture and big industry. It has polarised trends because everyone is affected by everyone. But exactly because of this, there is a reverse trend. Most big cities today are marked by a mishmash of many different cultures. At first glance, the supply seems varied, but may not be when looking at the bigger picture. The supply and offers that exist in the big cities are more or less the same in all big cities, so the big cities everywhere are becoming more and more alike. There are restaurants with the same types of food, amusement parks with the same attractions, zoos with the same types of animals, people listen to the same music and see the same films in the cinema. This is why many city-dwellers are looking for something different and new – something special and exotic – something, that you cannot get in the big city. This is where we think the Faroe Islands can deliver.

What is it exactly that the Faroe Islands has to offer, that you think people from other countries need?
– For the first time in the history of the world, this year more people live in big cities than in more rural areas. In the global big city society people’s distinctive character is becoming less and less pronounced – everything becomes more similar and therefore indifferent. The variety is roughly the same in most big cities. The search for what is unique has therefore never been greater, because fundamentally, people like to stand out – this is the basic drive behind new fashion trends. Here in the Faroe Islands, you may find something that is very distinctive and different, at the same time that it is safe and familiar to some extent, because the Faroese are in many ways the same as most other Western European people – the way they used to be before many of the modern global trends set in. This makes us particularly attractive to many visitors.

– It is also a strength of the Faroe Islands that we have proud and well-rooted handicrafts. We can make quality products and have a special authenticity in our designs that connect the old and coarse with the new and urbane in a particular way that nowadays is generally considered quite cool. Maybe this perception is because we live in an unsafe world that makes us nostalgic. We look back to what we think used to be safe and to a less spoiled and less polluted world. And this is the way the Faroe Islands is, while still boasting modern comforts.

– There is also a great need out there to find demarcated and manageable ‘islands’ that you can cultivate and keep to yourself. Relatively large groups of enthusiastic philatelists throughout the globe have made it their specialty to collect Faroese stamps – exactly because they come from a small country and are therefore in limited supply because of the small print runs. In the same way, we feel that ‘identity-starved’ people from all over the world, looking for something special to take an interest in, can be made aware of the special selection of other products that exists in the Faroe Islands. They just need access and information – and that is what we want to provide.

It is not easy to break through or stand out in the massive flow of information of the modern world – how are you planning to market the Faroe Islands?
– We at SamVit – Faroe Islands Enterprise (an amalgamation Tourist Board and Trade Council) have no plans for big expensive marketing campaigns – we cannot afford those. We are under no illusions that our marketing can magically create an enormous demand for Faroese products or that we can create Faroese stars that can sell millions of CDs around the world.

– But we can still do something to make a big difference in the end. Instead of spreading our efforts too thin, we can focus our marketing efforts to pinpoints – and therefore make us and Faroese products more visible and easier accessible to the right people. We do this through e.g. the Internet, because it is an effective and relatively cheap medium that makes it possible to communicate globally in seconds. On the Internet everyone is equal, because everyone is just a couple of clicks away. This, however, is not sufficient to achieve our goals – we need more..

– SamVit – Faroe Islands Enterprise is currently betting on the principles of pyro-marketing – i.e. hitting the right niche markets and networking with the right contacts in key positions and the right media which may already have a certain interest in the Faroe Islands or what the Faroe Islands represent. The most important issue is to have something to offer, and we certainly feel that we have that. We therefore work hard to establish contacts, going out to tell our story or to bring key people to the Faroe Islands – so they, in turn, can tell the story of this strange little country in the North Atlantic. This is e.g. what Guðrun & Guðrun did with their great fashion show in January when they brought the international fashion press to a hangar in Vágar airport.

So what do you do at SamVit – Faroe Islands Enterprise?
– At SamVit – Faroe Islands Enterprise, we have expertise in analysing target groups, marketing, communication and storytelling. We have a big network of contacts abroad and experiencing in establishing relevant contacts. Through the many ‘ambassadors’ that we have out there we can participate in tracking down the right recipients/clients and offer them what they are looking for or need – to tell our story, get them involved and make them interested in what the Faroe Islands have to offer.

– We consider Faroese products – anything from fish products to culture and tourism – to be of a high quality and represent a niche in the global market that can appeal to parts of the international audience if only they become familiar with them and are introduced in the right way. By thinking small and targeting selected, segmented and manageable markets in a way that combines authenticity and understanding of the market we can create the spark that is necessary for the fire to catch and spread. It is a matter of focused marketing.

– We have great faith in the power of the ‘event’ and good networking. We believe that the long, slower pushes produce better results in the long run. We believe that culture is a good icebreaker to open doors. So we try to participate in creating special events to create attention and expand our network – for instance events that promote Faroese music, art and design. They usually receive a lot of media attention and are helping us to create very valuable networks that we can utilise.

What do you hope to achieve with your strategy?
– It is about making the Faroe Islands more visible and recognisable to enable us to sell more of our products in the global marketplace. It is about making people associate something good and identifiable with Faroese products to make those products more sought-after.

– I think we can take this strategy far – it is mainly based on storytelling. It is relatively easy to tell people about the Faroe Islands, because the story is so manageable with effective dramatic elements. It is already clear, that it works to tell our story to the right ‘ambassadors’. Bill Clinton said, when he was here, that he would like to help tell our story to the world because he felt that we had many advantages by being so small and that we had understood some things that the rest of the world could learn from. He said that if we played our cards right, we could be come a pioneer country. I think it is very important to listen carefully, when other people say such things and seize those opportunities because, in the end, our success hinges on being able to use the momentum that is generated.

– Small-scale thinking can also work. Leonhard Cohen had a song: ‘First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin…’ We do not have to think big right away. We can ‘invade’ smaller cities or societies one by one, establish cooperation and begin by exchanging culture, events and experiences. The sister-city model or the Island Games model are successful examples of such small-scale thinking. In addition to exchanging friends and sports we can exchange art and culture as well as other products. These are small steps, but they all add up in the end.

– It is about sowing seeds where the soil is fertile. From there the message can spread like rings in water… A small sparkle can lit a big fire. And here, SamVit – Faroe Islands Enterprise can be the driving force that sets things in motion. We consciously work on these lines. Storytelling creates our minds. Storytelling – published the right places – creates the world.

Fact box:
Elin Heinesen is the Managing Director of SamVit – Faroe Islands Enterprise, the Faroese Trade Council and Tourist Board. She was born in 1958 and has a daughter, born in 1990. Before moving back to the Faroe Islands in 2007, she lived in Denmark for 24 years, most of the time in Copenhagen. The last 5 years before her move to the Faroe Islands she had been the Managing Editor of KIWI magazine, a women’s and consumer’s magazine, which she also helped launch. Elin was also the Marketing Coordinator of Copenhagen City of Culture 1996. She has wide-ranging experience in the fields of internet, marketing, media and culture and has worked in communication and marketing for many years as head of marketing, journalist and editor in on-line and printed media. She holds a university degree (Cand.mag.) in aesthetics and culture and also has an education in business economics from Copenhagen Business School as well as being an educated screenwriter from Den Danske Filmskole (the Danish Film School). Elin is sometimes referred to as ‘the singing manager’, since she also has a background as a singer and songwriter.


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