Closed for Maintenance: The Faroe Islands’ voluntourism project to ensure sustainable and responsible growth in tourism

Next April, the Faroe Islands, nestled halfway between Iceland and Norway, will again temporarily close, for one weekend only, to tourists except for 100 volunteer visitors who are willing to work on projects that maintain the islands and help to preserve nature.

It follows the success of the Faroe Islands’ first-ever voluntourism weekend held earlier this year. The islands, under the Closed for Maintenance campaign headed up by its tourism board Visit Faroe Islands, welcomed 100 volunteers from 25 countries who joined forces with locals to lay the groundwork for a more sustainable future for the stunning archipelago of 18 islands.

In the last five years, The Faroe Islands has experienced a 10% increase in visitors. Around 110,000 visitors each year now visit the Faroe Islands, attracted by the volcanic island’s stunning landscapes, dramatic fjords, rugged cliffs, sea caves, spectacular waterfalls, wildlife, and cairn-marked footpaths.

Earlier this year on a weekend in April, the Faroe Islands closed to tourists except those selected to participate in the Closed for Maintenance programme. Ten popular tourist sites – selected by local municipalities, tourism centres and villagers – were identified as areas where TLC would help to preserve the infrastructure and pave the way for a sustainable future for the islands.

There were a raft of projects led by local people for the volunteers to get involved in including creating walking paths in well-trodden areas, constructing viewpoints to help preserve nature and protect birdlife sanctuaries, rebuilding ancient cairns, and erecting signs and posts to help wayfinding.

Projects were of various difficulty levels, meaning volunteers did not need to be highly skilled. A willingness to assist was the only criteria. Volunteers primarily handled equipment such as hammers, screwdrivers, wheelbarrows and shovels.

Although the Faroe Islands has not been affected by overtourism, the country is nonetheless putting in measures to ensure the natural environment and local heritage remain protected and preserved.

The Closed for Maintenance voluntourism programme is the brainchild of Guðrið Højgaard, director of the Faroe Islands tourism board. In 2016, Guðrið Højgaard and her team devised a successful campaign called Sheep View 360°, which with the assistance of a local shepherd fitted five of the island’s 80,000 sheep population with a 360° camera on their backs as they walked and grazed around the island. This was done in a bid to get Google Street View to come and map the roads, causeways and bridges of the archipelago.

The successful viral campaign became a hit with more than 5 billion online views, and most importantly, it achieved the desired outcome which was to get the island on Google Street View. While the marketing campaign certainly put the Faroe Islands on the map, so to speak, increasing tourism to the island, Guðrið Højgaard is quick to point out that it is not a numbers game for the islands. “For us, tourism is not all about the numbers,” she said in a statement.”We also have a responsibility to our community and our beautiful unspoilt natural environment, and our aim is to preserve and protect the islands, ensuring sustainable and responsible growth.”

What the Closed for Maintenance project also demonstrates is how other countries can adopt and adapt similar methods to encourage conscious and sustainable tourism, utilising tourism in a way that benefits the environment and the local community. It’s also a way for tourists to truly immerse themselves in local traditions, hang out with the locals, and experience life in those areas – which for many encapsulates their desire to travel.

If you would like to take part in the Faroe Islands’ Closed for Maintenance voluntourism project in April 2020 (dates and registration date tbc), visit the Closed for Maintenance website

Closed for Maintenance

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

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