Image: Visit Faroe Islands

Atlantic Airways is working to make the Faroe Islands a bigger blip on the tourism radar by leveraging viral video content, modernizing its fleet and interlining with other carriers to boost route connectivity – all with an eye to conservation.

The Faroe Islands, with a population of about 50,000, can fill its entire hotel capacity of 300 rooms with just one-and-a-half planeloads of passengers. Even with camping and Airbnb options (plus plans to open a 130-room Hilton next year), publicizing the airline’s home destination has to be tempered with the need to preserve the islands’ unspoiled landscapes.

It’s also a challenge for an airline to promote its presence with a fleet of just four narrow-body aircraft while operating in the backyard of giant Nordic neighbors Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), Icelandair, Norwegian Air and Finnair. The airline also employs a couple of helicopters for search-and-rescue missions and for access to two of the Faroe’s 18 islands not yet connected by bridges and tunnels.

“We are very small and have a limited marketing budget, and it’s extremely tough to be in that big world,” says Jóhanna á Bergi, CEO of Atlantic Airways. But through codeshares with Air France–KLM, interline agreements with SAS and plans to work with others, Atlantic Airways is widening its network.

In a country so far off the beaten track that Google Street View had yet to visit in 2017, inhabitants launched a #wewantgooglestreetview campaign, equipping sheep with solar-powered 360-degree cameras to generate their own version of the ubiquitous online mapping tool.

“Google did not want to come to us – we were too small.” – Jóhanna á Bergi, Atlantic Airways

“Google did not want to come to us – we were too small and not on the world map. And then when we did this marketing campaign, they said, ‘Can we come to the Faroe Islands?’” says á Bergi.

This initiative was followed up by Faroe Islands Translate, an online alternative to its Google counterpart. The solution involved islanders volunteering to be available via smartphone to respond to live queries from visitors trying to learn some Faroese. “We did shifts. We made a big schedule with hundreds of people. I was on from six in the morning until noon, then somebody else took over. The islanders were very engaged,” says á Bergi, adding, “if we don’t get this on social media, then our language will die sooner or later.”

The most recent campaign addresses the balance between encouraging tourism while being protective of the environment, with the prime minister declaring the islands “closed for maintenance, open for voluntourism” during the last weekend in April of this year. This entailed sights and attractions being closed off to regular tourists, though volunteers from abroad were encouraged to come and work alongside locals to fix walking trails and fences in exchange for free food and lodging.

Underpinning all this promotional activity and to facilitate new flight routes, Atlantic Airways is upgrading its fleet with the Airbus A320neo, an aircraft that aligns with the airline’s ecological brand position: “The A320neo is 20 percent lower in fuel consumption, and that means that we can reach New York for the first time directly from the Faroe Islands. We hope to complete the first flight in September/October this year,” says à Bergi. “And at the same time, we’re working very hard on changing all our catering packaging so everything is organic material.”

“A Fine Balance” was originally published in the 9.4 September/October issue of APEX Experience magazine.