LONDON – Wish you could travel to a faraway island during the lockdown? The Faroe Islands are offering remote tourism, where web users can control a real life tour guide to trek around the remote archipelago’s quaint towns and volcanic islands.
The innovation is meant to sustain global interest in the North Atlantic islands, which have recently come to rely more on revenue from tourism. And it might help locked-down people around the world broaden their horizons beyond their apartment walls.
“If you ask them to go left, they go left. If you ask them to jump, they jump. If you ask them to run, they run,” said tourist board spokesman Levi Hanssen.
“You’re sort of steering this person and deciding what you want to see and where you want this person to go.”
Wearing helmet cameras, local guides provide commentary to web audiences remotely, guiding them across the Danish semiautonomous territory, which has had less than 200 confirmed COVID-19 cases and no deaths.
Nearly 50,000 people joined the first four hour-long tours, which are offered for free, said Hanssen. Most viewers were trying to land one of the minute-long slots for controlling the guide, available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Tours started Wednesday and will run until at least April 25. They are webcast on a tourist board website and on its Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Online tours come with new risks, Hanssen says. On one trip, a web user tried to make the guide jump into the ocean but he stopped in time.
“It’s very surreal to know that you’re walking around here in the Faroe Islands being controlled by someone on their sofa or even on the toilet. Who knows where they are,” he said.
Previous tours have visited the territory’s second largest city, Klaksvik, and other picturesque locations. There are plans for a kayak tour, a horse ride and more.
“We’re going to try and see if we can get on a helicopter and see if we can get people to steer a pilot,” Hanssen said.
The Faroe Islands is a rocky 18-island volcanic archipelago that’s home to 50,000 people, most of whome live in Torshavn, the capital.
Fishing and aquaculture are the traditional industries, but tourism has been growing in the last five years, with around 120,000 people visiting in 2019. The tourism industry ground to a halt after authorities urged travelers not to come until at least May 1. The project is a way to help the industry rebound once the pandemic ends.
“The idea is to whet people’s appetite and get them to want to come and experience this in real life,” Hanssen said.