How to help preserve an untouched tourism spot on the rise

Doing one's part to take care of the culture & land

By Corinne Whiting,

If you travel to the Faroe Islands, chances are you haven't landed there by mistake. Though the archipelago is only a quick flight away from Iceland or mainland Europe, it's a remote, windswept land that – up until now – has blissfully remained off most travelers' radars. Something, however, tells us that is all about to change. 

The picturesque village of Gasadalur can be found next to Heinanova mountain, with a waterfall cascading over a cliff into the Atlantic Ocean — Photo courtesy of © Kimberley Coole/Visit Faroe Islands

Those who've experienced the delightfully untouched islands will likely rave about the verdant hills, dramatic cliffs, packs of geese, puffin and wily sheep (often seen scratching themselves on roadside fences). Here the fare is hearty, the knitting omnipresent and the people subdued yet kind. You'll find refreshing glimpses of eras past; landline phones still ring, and –in many households – regional news gets dispatched via old-school radios.  

Locals seem to have mostly positive feelings about the arrival of tourists, acknowledging the benefits as well as logical concerns. When navigating an inevitable rise in tourism, especially with the recent increase of cruise ships landing in Faroese ports, the nation might seek guidance from its Icelandic neighbors.

As of 2012, a total of 305 bird species had been recorded in the Faroe Islands — Photo courtesy of Eva Kisgyorgy/Copyright Visit Faroe Islands

"The Iceland tourist boom started from a point of necessity and happenstance," explains Gunnar Hörður Garðarsson, Digital Communications Manager at Visit Reykjanes. "Catastrophic events like the economic crash [2008] and a massive volcano eruption [2010] disrupting flights around the world put us on the front page just about everywhere. In addition to that, the collective effort of regular Icelanders to share the news and extend hospitality to visitors laid the groundwork for the positive reputation Iceland has today."

On the islands, no spot is more than five kilometers from the North Atlantic — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting

When asked for words of wisdom, Gunnar H. G. replies, "The Faroe Islands should stay true to their core. Their story and culture, like ours, is interesting and the landscape is beautiful. In a way I would say that the Faroe Islands and the Reykjanes Peninsula have that in common, that we were discovered a little bit later than other close-by destinations."

"We have been able to think, prepare and decide what locations of interest our area has to offer and what we can do to protect them." He adds, "Invite guests to the country that you want to live in; don’t create a different tourist version of the Faroe Islands ... that’s the sustainable way to welcome visitors."

Natural environment

Although small and remote, the islands offer authentic adventures for every type of visitor — Photo courtesy of Christoffer Collin/Copyright Hasselblad H5D/Visit Faroe Islands

"Nature is very important to every person from the Faroe Islands," says Brynhild D. Weihe of Visit Faroe Islands. "We are taught to be mindful and respectful of it as we grow up, so this is something we're eager to encourage in our visitors as well. Visit Faroe Islands shares tips on how to be aware and respectful of nature throughout our website, and we regularly post about it on our social media channels as well."​

"Visitors can help us preserve our beautiful nature by being particular[ly] mindful of [and not disturbing] birds and birds' nests, and bringing back any rubbish they take on hikes." She continues, "It's also a good idea to check our hiking guide before venturing out – or to contact one of the local information centers if interested in hiking in particular areas; much of Faroese land is used by farmers for their sheep and such, and therefore certain areas of land are not well-suited for hiking because the animals won't be able to feed on the grass if people walk on it."

These islands lie in the North Atlantic Ocean at 62º north and 6º47' west, situated about halfway between Scotland and Iceland — Photo courtesy of Michael Bennett

When introducing new sites for Icelandic guests to explore, Gunnar H. G. explains that this involves "deciding what new destinations are not too vulnerable to visit and then building infrastructures around them, making restrooms accessible, building roads and walking paths and such." 

He adds, "A large part of protecting the environment is also raising awareness. The Iceland Academy campaign by Inspired By Iceland was launched to teach potential visitors of Iceland everything from hot tub etiquette to how to stay on the paths while driving or hiking and not tearing up the delicate, fluffy moss. Protecting the natural environment of Iceland is a collective effort and we hope to get everyone who visits on board so the next generations can visit Iceland, too. "

When asked whether Iceland's environmental efforts are working, Gunnar H. G. replies, "Absolutely. There is lots more we can do, but we are on the right path."

Culture

Music plays a huge part in Faroese culture — Photo courtesy of Kristfríð Tyril/Copyright kristfrid.tyril@momo.fo/Visit Faroe Islands

Getting to know local culture seems the obvious way for visitors to immerse themselves in any new destination – allowing for a dialogue that gives both sides a chance to learn and grow. Lucky guests to the Faroes might see whether they can crash a local "binda klubb" (knitting club) gathering, or look for free concerts happening at spots like the TUTL record shop in Tórshavn, the capital city.  

Michael Bennett, Executive VP at Nomad Hill (and Co-Founder of the Transformational Travel Collaborative) suggests hiring a local guide whenever possible. During his recent visit to the Faroe Islands, highlights involved getting invited into locals' homes for meals – like one especially memorable dinner consisting of fried cod, fresh salad, rhubarb pie and flowing wine.

During another cozy tea-and-cake session, he was given thick wooly socks ("just like going to grandma's," he says). Conversation drifted between the history of the islands and change over recent decades to thoughts on whether the islands should be independent from Denmark. 

He adds that touring with a local, like his guide John ("who had the driest sense of humor but was flipping hilarious"), gives context, adds texture and so many layers ... really makes the experience come to life."

Brynhild D. Weihe says, "One way in which we are trying to preserve our culture is by preserving our language. Faroese people love to share our culture with the world, but up until now there has been no accessible translation service for non-Faroese speakers."

"Visit Faroe Islands and Atlantic Airways just announced a new website called Faroe Islands Translate for this very purpose. Hopefully this will create some awareness around our distinct language and perhaps help people learn a few Faroese phrases before visiting, so they can participate in local conversations."

Nature has profoundly shaped the islands' inhabitants when it comes to their character and way of thinking — Photo courtesy of Copyright Bardur Mikladal/Visit Faroe Islands

Gunnar H. G. admits that "culture is an interesting thing," especially for nations that for centuries have remained isolated islands "in the middle of nowhere."

However, from his Icelandic perspective, he maintains an optimistic outlook: "Our culture may be unique, but it’s still ever changing. And with more visitors we, of course, are influenced by different cultures. It is my belief that we have been able to identify better what we are proud of in our culture after being introduced to other cultural worlds, and what we learn from others makes Icelandic culture only richer."