See, run, jump: Playing the role of virtual tourist in the Faroe Islands

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Courtesy; CBS News

The Faroe Islands, a collection of 18 small islands located halfway between Iceland and Norway, is officially part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and is easily one most beautiful places correspondent Conor Knighton has ever been.

He previously reported on a visit to the islands for “Sunday Morning,” and was hoping to go back for a vacation this year. But obviously those plans have changed.

“We haven’t had any tourists for the past seven or eight weeks, and it looks like it’s going to be a very tough summer as well,” said Levi Hanssen, the content & communications manager for the Faroese Tourism Bureau.

When he first met Knighton back in 2017, Hanssen mentioned that it can sometimes be challenging to attract visitors to a place most tourists have never heard of: “We realize that we live in a very remote place. We sometimes have this feeling of being like, you know, David against Goliath.”

But Faroe Islands tourism has steadily been on the rise, and 2020 was set to be a record-breaking year.

“This was definitely going to be our busiest year,” Hanssen said. “We have two new hotels opening up. Doesn’t sound a lot, but in the Faroe Islands, that’s doubling our capacity!”

Those hotel reservations are all cancelled now.

But, once COVID-19 completely shut down tourism, Hanssen and his team decided that they would serve as the eyes and ears of those who were forced to put their trips on hold.

At remote-tourism.com, you can now guide the Faroese guides. They’ve equipped themselves with cameras and headsets and have been live-streaming hour-long walks. Every minute, a new person gets the chance to direct their movements from home. 

Press forward on your app’s control, and they move forward. Press left, they turn to the left. And when you press jump, they jump!

Even if you don’t get a chance to snag a minute at the controls, it’s fun to watch no matter who is in charge. The guides have hopped onto boats, horses, and helicopters.

Hanssen said, “It’s a bit surreal, really, to know that you’re being controlled by a person in a completely different country, many, many miles away.”

If there’s something you want to get a closer look at, a press of the button transmits a live instruction to the guide’s earpiece.

Knighton asked, “What’s the percentage of helpful vs. messing-with-you? Have people just been making you jump and run left and right?”

“Yeah, we considered that a lot before we did this,” said Hanssen. “Most people have been very helpful. But there have been a few cheeky people, that have asked us to run and jump a lot. But that’s part of the fun. It’s fine.”

Knighton was one of those “cheeky” people. When he got his turn at the controls during one of the tours, he couldn’t resist putting Hanssen through his paces.

Hanssen: “We’re going to walk forward, up straight to the sheep, which you can see up there.”
Knighton, back at home: “I think it’s time to RUN to those sheep!”
Hanssen: “Oh, you’re going to make me run again! That’s okay, I’m obeying the orders.”
Knighton, back at home: “Sorry, buddy, I had to do it!”

And while the guides will often make helpful suggestions about where they’d like you to steer them (“If you ask me to turn to the left, I’ll show you a beautiful view!”), you’re given the final say.

The hope, of course, is that some of these online visitors turn into in-person visitors one day.

And really, what better way to show off a destination than to show that, in the Faroe Islands, it doesn’t really matter which way you turn – it all looks beautiful?

This article is adapted from CBS News.

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