Nordic nation restricts tourists for one weekend in April – unless they wish to help locals care for their 18-island archipelago in the North Atlantic. The pristine Faroe Islands, a group of volcanic islands in the North Atlantic, halfway between Iceland and Norway, welcome around 100,000 visitors each year, attracted by the country’s dramatic scenery, including rugged cliffs, sea caves, spectacular waterfalls and an abundance of birdlife, not forgetting a population of just 50,000 Faroese people and their 80,000 sheep.
But, for one weekend in spring 2019, the Faroe Islands will be closed to tourists. Why? The Faroese people are keen to keep their green islands unspoiled. Notably – and happily – the Faroe Islands currently have no over-tourism problems. However, the fragile natural environment in a few popular tourist locations has felt the effects of an increase in visitors. These areas need a helping hand to ensure they remain pristine; sustainability is the goal.
The destination’s idea is, quite simply, to ‘close for maintenance and open for voluntourism’ over the weekend of Friday 26 to Sunday 28 April, 2019 – and to repeat and expand on this idea each year if it works well. The Faroese have announced that only those prepared to work with locals over the maintenance weekend will be able to visit. There will be a raft of projects led by the island people, aimed at delivering a touch of TLC to the Faroese countryside and to ready it for visitors in for the rest of the year.
Just 100 visitors will be able to sign up to join the Faroese Maintenance Crew. In return for their services to the country, they will be gifted both accommodation and food over the three-night maintenance period by the Faroese (Thursday 25, Friday 26 and Saturday 27). Maintenance projects will take place on Friday 26 and Saturday 27 April. On the Saturday night, there will be a celebratory meal for all those who have joined forces to help – Faroese and overseas visitors alike. Maintenance Crew visitors can also choose to extend their trip to the Faroe Islands should they wish to do so.
A unique way of life
Projects will include creating walking paths in well-trodden areas, constructing viewpoints that help preserve nature and protect birdlife sanctuaries and erecting signs that help with ‘wayfinding’. Projects will be of various difficulty levels, meaning volunteers do not need to be highly skilled. A willingness to assist is the only criterion.
“We are delighted that more and more people are discovering how special our islands are – our scenery, our unique way of life, our food and our people,” says Guðrið Højgaard, director of Visit Faroe Islands. “You can find peace and quiet wherever you go, even in our lively capital city, Tórshavn.”
She continues: “For us, tourism is not all about numbers. We welcome visitors to the islands each year, but we also have a responsibility to our community and to our beautiful environment, and our aim is to preserve and protect the islands, ensuring sustainable and responsible growth.” The Faroes’ Prime Minister, Aksel V. Johannesen, has joined the campaign by inviting volunteers to lend a helping hand.
The campaign will work with local villagers and farmers to identify several areas where a little TLC will help to preserve the infrastructure and will pave the way for a sustainable future for the islands. The Faroese hope that their new project may inspire other countries to follow suit, and to set up their own Maintenance Crews, thereby encouraging tourists to help in whatever way is needed to deal with the particular problem/s affecting that destination.
The Faroe Islands have seen a growth of approximately 10 per cent in tourists in recent years and, while the country welcomes visitors with open arms, it also wishes to ensure that over-tourism never becomes an issue.
For more information, or to sign up to be part of the Maintenance Crew, please visit: www.preservefaroeislands.com.