This Virtual Tour Cured My Travel Withdrawal
Leave it to the Faroe Islands to come up with the most clever virtual tour we've seen. In their new tourism program, a Faroese resident becomes your local avatar, guiding you around the stunning archipelago in real time.
For many of us, adjusting to a less nomadic lifestyle has meant finding creative ways to sate our wanderlust, from reminiscing about past trips to planning for future ones. For me it’s been a little of both. And now one of my favorite destinations, the Faroe Islands, an 18-island archipelago that lies between Norway and Iceland, has come up with a fun way to make us feel like we’re there.
I fell for the islands’ dramatic vistas, ample sheep, and good-humored people after spending too few days exploring them two summers ago. Since then, I’ve edited the hundreds of photos I took, added material to a guide I plan to share with anyone I can convince to go, and reread Sussana Kaysen’s Far Afield, a beautiful novel based on her year living there, all the while planning for my return. So when I heard about the Faroe Islands tourism board’s latest initiative, a daily virtual visit that involves having a Faroese resident, with a camera strapped to them, give real-time tours, as viewers direct their movements via an on-screen console, I couldn’t help myself. What I originally expected to be an elaborate marketing campaign has turned out to be exactly what I needed to cope with my travel withdrawal.
As much as it’s a great way to enjoy the diverse beauty of the destination, it’s an even better way to experience the unique charm of the Faroese people. Since the virtual tour’s launch on April 15, I’ve been tuning in daily for a dose (check this page for the timing of the next tour), following a real-life tourism-board staffer who turns, walks, runs, and jumps on command while sharing fun facts about the archipelago’s geography, culture, and history. The awkwardness you’d expect from a person being made to perform these actions is quickly resolved by the guide’s earnestness. Some highlights I’ve heard thus far: “If you turn right once more, you’ll see dark clouds meeting the light sky, creating a nice contrast,” “I wish you could see a newborn lamb, they are so cute. Oh look! There is one,” “This is such a cool experience, to be controlled by an anonymous person. I have no idea where you are in the world right now, but hello! Nice to meet you.”
Along with exploring regions “on foot,” viewers can expect tours via kayak, boat, horseback, and helicopter, depending on weather conditions. (It’s typical to experience all four seasons in a single day on the islands.) For a chance to control the cameraperson, viewers click the “join” button on the website stream. Each individual session lasts one minute, allowing up to 60 people to get a turn during the hourlong excursion. At the same time, tourism-board staff help answer questions and offer travel suggestions on Facebook Live and Instagram. The initiative is scheduled to run through April 25 but may be extended pending its popularity.
At the moment, the Faroes aren’t accepting visitors until May 1, a timeline that will be updated as the pandemic situation evolves. But with a population of just 52,000 and the highest coronavirus testing rate per capita in the world, the autonomous region has remained relatively unimpacted since it shut down on March 12. “We believe that our remote islands are the perfect place to inspire people in lockdown—and naturally, we hope to welcome them in person once everyone is free to travel again,” said Gudrid Hojgaard, director of Visit Faroe Islands, in a statement.
As for me, I’ll definitely be returning once this is all over.