Guðrið Højgaard, gives us the lowdown on a creative strategy so successful that most of the archipelagos’ hotels are already booked up for 2018
The Faroe Islands is a visually stunning archipelago nestled between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic that, due to its remote location, often slips the mind of the rest of the world. Turns out, it’s pretty memorable – if you get a chance to visit. After visiting the islands, thousands of visitors were asked in a poll how they would remember it and most repeated these three words: unspoiled, unexplored, and unbelievable.
Now these words are the official brand slogan for Visit Faroe Islands, the local Government tourism body. The support businesses, promoting local events, and creating and curating stunning videos and images that showcase the beauty of the Faroese landscape.
Rolling green hills, dramatic beach cliffs, long winding roads and sheep. Lots of sheep. In fact it was thanks to some sheep that Visit Faroe Islands were able to grow the international reputation of islands. When Google failed to map out the country with its Streetview vans, enterprising locals strapped cameras to their sheep to create Google Sheepview – a 360 online tour of the archipelago.
LBB’s Jason Caines, spoke to Guðrið Højgaard, Director of Tourism and CEO at Visit Faroe Islands to find out about their campaigns to date and where they see Faroese tourism in years to come.
LBB> Your offices are based in Tórshavn, the Faroe Islands’ coastal capital. What's it like to work there? What is the creative scene like in the city?
GH> Well, the Faroe Islands is a very small place with only about 50,000 inhabitants (20,000 in Tórshavn), so it is certainly different from bigger cities where I have lived before. I moved back to the Faroe Islands when I started in this position at Visit Faroe Islands after living abroad (Sweden, Denmark, UK and Spain) for 20 years.
But Tórshavn is a micro metropole, so you can find almost everything here, just on a smaller scale. We have a lively cultural scene, great restaurants (even Michelin starred) and local designers that have won international recognition etc.
LBB> Can you give us some stats with regards to tourism in the Faroe Islands and how the numbers are evolving?
GH> We are still a very small tourism destination with only about 100,000 guests annually, which is twice as much as the local population. In the last few years we have had an annual increase of 10-12%, so it is growing quite sustainably.
LBB> How important is social media to your marketing strategy and how do you utilise it?
GH> Very important and it is certainly one of our main focus areas. We have around 300,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram. We are in a situation at the moment where we can pick and choose from the great number of requests that we get from influencers every day. Being a small agency also means small resources so therefore we are not able to invite that many people.
LBB> Who would you say your target audience is?
GH> Geographically most of our guests come from Europe, but at the moment we do see an increased interest from the US and Asia as well. In the past our typical guest was a bit older, around 55+, but nowadays it has changed a lot, especially because of social media, so we are seeing a big increase in younger people coming from European cities.
LBB> Your Instagram and Twitter is filled with lot of stunning, visitor-generated images and you host regular social media takeovers. How do you choose who takes part in the takeovers and why do you take this approach to social media?
GH> Our main channels are Facebook and Instagram and yes, we are in the lucky situation that the number of requests highly exceeds the number of people that we can invite, so we can choose between a lot of high quality influencers. We do not necessarily only choose to do Instagram takeovers with people who have the most followers, but also those that we think create great content, especially films, that we also can use in other channels.
LBB> Events and hospitality is a large feature of your site. How do you actively market Faroese local businesses, hospitality providers like Hotels and Faroese retailers?
GH> They are all listed on our webpage and we do also collaborate with local partners in other ways, especially regarding trips and sales workshops, where we create platforms that they can attend.
LBB> The Faroe Islands is not the easiest destination to reach – what challenges does this present for you in the marketing department?
GH> In todays globalized world most people have already been to Dubai, London, Milan etc, and hence now they are looking for new and unknown destinations and that is where we come in. We can offer something different that our guests tend to describe as an authentic and different experience. And they don’t seem to care that much that they need to go via Copenhagen, Edinburgh or Reykjavik. Actually you can get to the Faroe Islands from nine different cities in Europe, some of them seasonally and some all year round.
LBB> A lot of your video content focuses on sports such as cold winter surfing, hiking and rock climbing – why is this kind of targeted content important for Visit Faroe Islands?
GH> Nature itself and experiences in the nature is the first reason why people choose to come to the Faroe Islands. Mostly people that are looking for ‘adventure light’ experiences, not as extreme as those in Greenland or Iceland. The Gulf stream means we get relatively mild winters in the Faroe Islands and hence not much snow compared to other Nordic countries.
LBB> The Visit Faroe Islands brand tone is very personable and filled with more then a few jokes. It does not take itself too seriously. How did you choose this style of brand tone?
GH> We wanted it to correspond with the Faroese style which is quite informal.
LBB> The Google Sheepview campaign won a series of awards, including 1st prize in the Travel & Tourism category at the World Media Awards 2017 in London, as well as two golds in the PR and Integrated categories at the Danish Digital Awards in Copenhagen. What was the reaction to the campaign like and what impact did it have?
GH> The Sheep View project has definitely been our most successful campaign so far. It gave us more than two billion impressions and actually gave us three PR waves. One when we launched the project in July 2016, one when the Google people actually came to the Faroe Islands to mount the equipment in Aug/Sept 2016 and one in Autumn 2017 when the Faroe Islands finally became public on Google Street View. All in all, we have won about 35-40 awards, including 3 Cannes Lions and 3 Clio Awards.
LBB> On the Sheepview video, you worked with Sansir, a Marketing Consultancy, who are also based in Tórshavn. What did they contribute to the Sheep View project and have you partnered with them on any other projects?
GH> Yes, they are our agency together with the Danish agency Liquidminds and we have a close collaboration with both of them when it comes to campaigns and exhibitions.
LBB> You also worked with London-based PR agency, Travel PR and Danish agency LiquidMinds – why did it make sense to work with these companies in different countries?
GH> We have actually been collaborating with Travel PR for many years now. It is a great advantage to work with people that are based in the different markets, especially for us when we are small and only have one office based in the Faroe Islands.
LBB> Are there any other Faroese agencies that you work with that we should know about?
GH> Yes, there are a few. Sansir who we work with is one of them and a bureau called Sendistovan is another. They are the biggest ones.
LBB> And in general, what is the advertising scene like in the Faroe Islands? Is there much of a community of agencies?
GH> Being a place of only 50,000 inhabitants of course means that it a relatively small agency scene. Most of them do primarily work on the local market. That’s why, when we launched our brand in 2013, we decided to go for a combination of a local agency but also one outside the Faroe Islands, to give two different perspectives.
LBB> In October 2017, VisitFaroe Islands launched another new collaborative project with Google but this time the focus is on getting the Faroese language on Google’s official translate software. What was the inspiration behind this campaign? How is it going to date?
GH> Well, it has been a very efficient project as well. So far more than half a billion impressions which should be set in perspective with the total budget of approx. £200,000. So I am quite satisfied with that as well.
LBB> What’s in store for the Visit Faroe Islands brand in 2018 and beyond?
GH> Well actually we are having a positive problem at the moment because most of the hotels are already booked this year. This means we will not make any major campaign this year, but keep the focus on social media and great content. It has been decided politically that Visit Faroe Islands will also be responsible for the internal development from January this year (and not only of marketing as it has been), so we are recruiting two people to our new development department at the moment. Our slogan is “The Faroe Islands – Unspoiled, Unexplored, Unbelievable”, this was defined by 5000 tourists, who had actually visited the islands in 2012/2013 – and we want the islands to remain like that, developing sustainably, even though the number of tourists is increasing.