Closed for maintenance, open for voluntourism
More and more destinations are facing challenges related to anincrease in tourists. The same applies to the Faroe Islands. Although the islands do not in any way suffer from overtourism, there are a few selected locations that have felt the impact of more touristsin recent years. The impact on these popular attractions has also resulted in disgruntled locals voicing their concern about the impact to the environment. The importance of locals’ opinions about tourism cannot be underestimated. One of Visit Faroe Islands’ main barometers of success is that Faroe Islanders see value in tourism and want tourism to develop and grow.
The initiative was based on three criteria: To help preserve and maintain popular tourist sites that have felt the impact of an increase in tourists, to assure locals that Visit Faroe Islands is considerate of the environment and acts in protecting it when needed and to raise awareness about the Faroe Islands as a travel destination through international news/media coverage.
The team invited 100 tourists from 25 countries to visit the Faroe Islands to help villagers and farmers preserve and maintain 10 popular tourist sites. Regional municipalities in all parts of the country selected areas that they felt were in most need of maintenance. Together with locals, ‘voluntourists’ created walking paths in well-trodden areas, constructed viewpoints that help preserve nature and protect bird life sanctuaries and erected signs that help with way-finding. Projects were of various difficulty levels, meaning volunteers did not need to be highly skilled. Awillingness to assist was the only criterion. In return for their help,voluntourists were offered accommodation and food for the three-night working period – and, in true Faroese style, a party at the end to celebrate the work that was accomplished.
Press all over the world covered the story. Within four days of launching, over 3,500 people from all corners of the globe had signed up. The first 100 to sign up and book their flights were admitted to the Maintenance Crew. Five international news outlets were handpicked from the many that requested to takepart in the final weekend’s maintenance activity. The 1,600 hours of work done by voluntourists, local villagers and farmers made a real difference. Walking paths were made, viewpoints were constructed, and way finding signs were erected, paving the way for a sustainable future for the islands. Locals took note; somewere surprised at how much could be accomplished in such a short amount of time; others expressed delight at seeing how enthusiastic and engaged the voluntourists were; all were grateful that 100 strangers took time to lend a helping hand.
The campaign experienced two separate waves of international press coverage; first when the initiative was launched, and again after the maintenance weekend, when the international press that took part in the maintenance work published articles about their experiences. In total, the campaign generated over 500 news articles, an online readership of over 3.7B and 34M social mediaactions – all on a media budget of zero.