The Next Economy
Faroe Islands ‘Preservolution’ Strategy Prioritizes Sustainability, Engages Local Residents

Visit Faroe Islands’ innovative strategy and annual ‘Closed for Maintenance’ voluntourism program illustrate the destination’s dual commitment to both promotion and the sustainable development. Lacking relevant legislation, VFI uses tourism to support sustainable development on a broader scale.

During the fourth weekend in April, you won’t see tourists hiking the popular village path connecting Fuglafjørður and Hellurnar. They won’t be able to easily access the picturesque lighthouse on Nólsoy or reach the pebble beach in Froðba, either. In fact, 10 popular Faroe Islands tourist destinations will be “Closed for Maintenance” — accessible to only a select group of “voluntourists” as part of a dedicated Maintenance Crew.

For the fifth year in a row, voluntourists will spend three days participating in maintenance projects as part of the Visit Faroe Islands (VFI) sustainable tourism strategy. In exchange for free accommodation, food and transport, the 100 members of this Maintenance Crew will put in manual labor, helping locals with tasks such as repairing paths, replacing wayfinding posts, installing information signs, and building benches and steps.

“I think we can say that the ‘Closed’ initiative has been a huge success,” said Súsanna Sørensen, marketing manager of leisure and public relations for VFI. ‘Closed for Maintenance’ was launched in 2019 to showcase Visit Faroe Islands’ commitment to both development and preservation. “We needed the promotion/PR to make people aware of the initiative; but the work has always been about maintaining and improving areas that needed attention.”

Canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 and restricted to only Faroese in 2021, the initiative is back with a vengeance — with more than 4,300 people signing up with the hope of being selected through a lottery system for the next Maintenance Crew.

The destination’s dual commitment to both promotion and the sustainable development of the country is part of its “preservolution” strategy, launched in spring 2019. Combining the words “preserve,” “evolve” and “solution,” this is more than simply a strategy — it is “an evolution and a solution, with preservation at its core. An entirely new way of thinking about tourism,” according to the document outlining the vision.

Like many destinations, the Faroe Islands was at a flex point in 2019 as it grappled with an increasing number of travelers as well as the need to develop sustainably — with consideration for its people, environment and economy. The global pandemic gave Visit Faroe Islands the gift of time to reevaluate how to move forward with its preservolution vision.

Image credit: Visit Faroe Islands

“I think it is fair to say that the pandemic strengthened our resolve to ensure that the development is good for the country and the people who live here,” Sørensen said. “We talked a lot about how we could ensure that the re-opening of the country post-COVID would not all be about numbers. At the same time, we also acknowledged that the tourism industry was in a place where they needed to bring back business.”

On the other side of the pandemic, the Faroe Islands are in a particularly unique position. As an island destination, the country is vulnerable to the increased focus on the climate crisis and flight shaming; yet Sørensen noted the country’s national airline, Atlantic Airways, has new planes that use less energy and are more efficient. Recent renovations of the airport and landing strip have decreased layovers and unnecessary flights, as well.

Yet the Faroe Islands, like all Nordic countries, is also perfectly poised to welcome travelers seeking wilderness experiences. As part of its preservolution strategy, VFI is taking local residents’ concerns and insight into consideration in determining what this looks like.

“The increased focus on nature and how to preserve nature now that more people, both international travelers and locals, use nature as recreation — for example, to go hiking — has also made more locals ask for nature protection,” Sørensen said. Lacking relevant legislation, VFI sees this as an opportunity to use tourism as a means to support sustainable development on a broader scale. “We believe that we can create increased awareness of the importance of nature and sustainable use of nature and our resources through tourism,” she said.

In addition to participating in Closed for Maintenance and voicing concern about nature conservation, Faroese are more involved and considered when it comes to tourism infrastructure, logistics and planning. For example, in the small, scenic village of Tjørnuvík, traffic was becoming increasingly problematic and dangerous. With generous input from local residents, VFI and the municipality, several changes were made last summer — including adding traffic lights on the narrow road leading into the village, sensors in the village’s parking lots, and a shuttle bus system that now operates in the community.

“We are the process of making a new tourism strategy for 2030; and we have decided to ask the locals for their opinion on how to make sure the Faroe Islands develops as a regenerative tourism destination,” Sørensen said. She believes Visit Faroe Islands’ bottom-up strategy has the potential to spread the benefits of tourism across the country’s 18 North Atlantic islands and open up job opportunities beyond farming, particularly for women.

“Only a few years ago, everyone talked about … how young people did not move back home after studies abroad and how the population was declining,” Sørensen said. “Now, we are more than 50,000 people in the Faroe Islands — the most we have ever been — with young people moving back; and we are increasingly proud of what we have and who we are.”

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