With a total budget of US$ 300.000, a global audience and no media budget, we needed to create a spectacular event that could generate attention in itself.
PR was the only kind of media used to create attention and get volunteers to travel to the Faroe Islands and help maintain the islands.
The Faroe Islands is a tiny archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean with a population of 50.000 people. Like so many other places around the world, tourism is booming. Over the past few years, tourism has increased more than 100 % and in 2018 there were two tourists visiting for every local Faroe Islander.
Infrastructure like walking trails, signage, fences and waste management was not scaled to fit the increase in visitors and tourism was perceived as a problem by nearly one third of the local population.
For Visit Faroe Islands, this created a paradox. Their job was to increase tourism in a country without the adequate infrastructure and without a desire for tourists in the first place.
We didn’t just have one challenge. We had three.
1. Improve the relationship between tourists and locals
2. Improve the infrastructure
3. Increase tourism
And a budget of less than US$ 300.000.
Describe the creative idea (20% of vote)
The Faroe Islands have a remote location, a rough climate and a well-preserved island culture. But perhaps most importantly, the Faroe Islands had a real need for help.
Luckily, not all tourists want to tan and drink margaritas. We saw many indicators that travellers have a growing appetite for authentic, cultural travel experiences and “doing good”. For example, 84 % of millennials said that they would travel abroad to participate in volunteer activities.
Lonely Planet range Eco-tourism as a top three travel trend and many of the tourists in the Faroe Islands expressed a desire to get to know the locals better and in a more direct way.
We decided to make a bold strategic move. We changed our focus from tourism to voluntourism.
Describe the PR strategy (30% of vote)
How could we catch the world’s attention with a media budget of 0?
We decided to close the country. On the 20th of February 2019, the Faroese Prime Minister announced that the Faroe Islands were going to be ‘Closed for Maintenance’ and open for voluntourists on the last weekend of April.
This meant closing down all the most popular tourist sites to tourists. Instead, visitors were invited to help with some tender love and care for the islands. In return, volunteers were gifted accommodation and food over the three-day maintenance period by the Faroese nation.
Throughout the weekend, volunteers and locals would collaborate on ten specific projects, building walking trails, fences and viewpoints as well as setting up waste bins and signage.
But we knew we were taking a risk. Were people actually willing to pay for their own flights and come and work for free?
Describe the PR execution (20% of vote)
We launched the initiative with an official video announcement from the Faroese Prime Minister. On one hand it was important to have a dramatic message, but on the other we could not risk the loss of future tourism. Therefore, our film needed to delicately combine the dramatic message of the islands’ closing with breathtaking shots of the Faroe Islands.
We pitched the story directly to the ten most influential media in the world and invited them to come and participate.
We invited journalists to come and work side by side with the other volunteers, and we sent out live coverage and interviews to all media who had given coverage to the initial press release.
List the results (30% of vote)
Within 24 hours from the announcement of ‘Closed for Maintenance, Open for Voluntourism’, the story made headlines all over the world. This resulted in more than 600 news articles and a total online readership of six billion with 50.000.000 social media interactions.
Within just 4 days, 3.500 people, seven times the people that usually visit the Faroe Islands on the weekend, had signed up.
On the last weekend of April, volunteers from 25 countries arrived to help maintain the islands. Today, the top ten sights have all been restored and improved. Simply by turning tourism into voluntourism.
‘Closed for Maintenance’ proved to be not only a trailblazing solution to a global issue, but also a blessing for the Faroese people, who improved their view on tourism by 25 %. The initiative is set to be an annually reoccurring event on the Faroe Islands.