Levi Hanssen, content manager at Visit Faroe Islands, explains how the remote North Atlantic country used the total solar eclipse in 2015, visible from only two countries worldwide, as a means of marketing the islands as a tourist destination.
Hands up if you’ve ever heard of the Faroe Islands.
If you put this question to most groups of people around the world, the most likely result will be no reaction. Our task at Visit Faroe Islands is to change this. We want to see more hands in the air, because only then will people be informed enough to choose to visit this relatively unknown destination.
On March 20, 2015, nature presented us with an ideal opportunity to spread the word about what our wonderful islands have to offer. On this day, a total solar eclipse took place; a rare event where the moon passes between the earth and the sun, completely blocking out the direct light of the sun. This phenomenon only happens on average every 375 years for any specific location, and in 2015, the only places one could witness a total solar eclipse were in the Faroe Islands and Svalbard.
We knew straight away that this was a fantastic marketing opportunity and started planning well in advance. You could say others started planning even earlier than we did, since the first hotel booking came already in 1999!
We organized our work into three phases: before, during and after the event.
From the get-go, we decided to have two coordinators – one for all internal matters placed on the main tourist information, and one external coordinator, which was Visit Faroe Islands’ PR manager, who was responsible for all our marketing priorities. In this particular case, PR and Digital were the cornerstones of our campaign.
Our PR agencies in London and Hamburg were involved from the beginning. We had various media post countdown articles and TV programmes where they highlighted particular days; precisely one year before the event, for instance.
We invited as many key media houses as possible to the Faroe Islands already in 2014. The reasoning behind this was that they would be able to experience our islands themselves, and hopefully include us on “must-visit” lists for 2015, when the eclipse was to take place. In addition to those who were invited, other media came on their own accord, often as a result of the articles we had sent out through our PR agencies.
We were very pleased to be included on “must-visit 2015” lists by some of the world’s biggest media, such as National Geographic, CNN, The New York Times and The Guardian. When these worldwide media make such lists, other smaller media often follow suit, creating a multiplier effect.
The PR value from all these articles combined amounted to approximately 100 times our investment.
Another key to our success was hiring a solar eclipse expert from Australia. She was able to help us with unforeseen challenges and making sure we provided the correct information to the thousands of expected visitors as well as the media. She helped make information leaflets with practical information about the Faroe Islands and the total solar eclipse which were widely distributed across the islands.
One of our main challenges was our limited commercial accommodation capacity, which is approximately 800 beds. We refused to let that hinder us, and instead found alternative accommodation by asking locals to rent their houses, flats and rooms. Hundreds of locals took part, which resulted in the event having a real community feel to it.
We wanted to document the spectacular site as well as possible, so we invited professional photographers and Instagrammers from abroad to come and take photos. We created an optimized Total Solar Eclipse website, used Google Ads, created a Total Solar Eclipse Facebook page and, in general, tried to get as much visibility as possible with the limited resources we had.
During the event, we took care of the 60+ international media that arrived. These included some of the biggest media in the world, such as Associated Press, Reuters, BBC, ITV, The New Yorker, Al-Jazeera, and Chinese CCTV. BBC Stargazing aired the event live on BBC. This required many months of preparation which we gladly helped with. In the days leading up to the big day, we held press conferences for the visiting media where experts from various fields gave helpful information. On March 20, 2015, news articles in media all across the world mentioned the Faroe Islands.
We hope this means that today, more people will be able to raise their hands when asked if they’ve heard of the Faroe Islands.
After the event, we wanted to capitalize on the media coverage and interest from abroad. We put much effort into giving the media that travelled to the Faroe Islands inspiration for future articles which showed everything else our country has to offer as a tourist destination.
We wanted the people who had experienced our country to spread the word and also to come back themselves. The first guest who returned after the eclipse changed his mind on the plane on his way home. He returned the very same day because he was not finished exploring our islands!
Our aim was to increase awareness about the Faroe Islands by using the total solar eclipse as a marketing opportunity. We feel we succeeded in doing that. The number of tourists that come to experience our beautiful landscape and charming culture has never been higher, and 2016 is shaping up to be yet another record-breaking year.
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