Wish you could have traveled to a faraway island during the coronavirus quarantine? This spring, cooped-up web users had an unusual opportunity: a virtual romp around the Faroe Islands. The option boosted interest in the remote locale—and helped folks in lockdown broaden their horizons.
The Faroe Islands are a Danish semi-independent territory. The 18 major islands (There are 779 total!) lie about 200 miles north of Scotland, halfway between Norway and Iceland.
God made these islands rugged, rocky, and wildly beautiful. Fishing and aquaculture are traditional industries. But tourism is growing. Around 120,000 visitors arrived on the islands in 2019. However, during the pandemic, tourist travel ground to a halt.
So the area’s tourist board developed a brilliant marketing plan. Real, live human guides would escort an internet audience around the islands and provide commentary during the trek. According to the website, remote tourists “can explore the Faroes’ rugged mountains, see close-up its cascading waterfalls, and spot the traditional grass-roofed houses by interacting—live—with a local Faroese, who will act as your eyes and body on a virtual exploratory tour.”
Wearing helmet cameras, guides stood at the ready each day at 5 p.m. local time. They awaited instructions from their web audience.
The remote-control project was a way to help the industry rebound. “The idea is to whet people’s appetite and get them to want to come and experience this in real life,” Hanssen says.
“If you ask them to go left, they go left. If you ask them to jump, they jump. If you ask them to run, they run,” says tourist board spokesman Levi Hanssen.
Nearly 50,000 people joined the first free hour-long tours. Most viewers hoped to land a one-minute slot for controlling the guide in real time via computer-game-like controls.
“You’re sort of steering this person and deciding what you want to see and where you want this person to go,” says Hanssen. On one trip, a web user tried to make the guide jump into the ocean. Oops.
“It’s very surreal to know that you’re walking around here in the Faroe Islands being controlled by someone on their sofa,” Hanssen says.
Tours happened via kayak, horseback, and helicopter. Guides traipsed through the capital of Tórshavn, the second largest city of Klaksvík, and other scenic locations.
Guðrið Højgaard is CEO of Visit Faroe Islands. “Now that we don’t have any tourists,” she says of the remote-control tour guide plan, “we have a lot of extra time on our hands.”