The Faroe Islands - an archipelago in the North Atlantic once dubbed the thinking man’s Iceland - is known for its dramatic cliffs, Viking heritage and controversial relationship to minke whales.
Now the Faroese are seeing a tourism boom to rival the one experienced by Iceland in the early 2010s. International visitors have doubled in the past eight years.
Natural formations such as the Drangarnir pillars and Sorvagsvatn hanging lake are fantasy landscapes to rival Aotearoa’s filmic backdrops. And, until recently, the islands have been eerily empty.
Now crofters and farmers on the outcrops are charging access to their land in an effort to reap some of the rewards from the dramatic uptick in visitors.
The national tourism board, Visit Faroe Islands, has begun warning hikers of the new restrictions being put in place by landowners.
“Several popular hiking routes in the Faroe Islands have implemented restrictions regarding access to the area and now require a mandatory payment for walking in that location,” says their website.
There are now credit card readers at the gates to some valleys.
The scenes, which have recently caught the attention of travel influencers, have become the new cash cow for the regions.
The Drangarnir sea stacks, located between Vagar and the islet Tindholmur, can now only be accessed with a guide for around 600 Danish Krone ($140).
Until now visitors to the remote tracts of land have been hard to govern. In some cases this has been cause for concerns over visitor safety. Asking hikers to leave plans and expected return times on the dash of their cars is the kind of trusting initiative that wouldn’t happen anywhere else.
But now farmers in the remote Atlantic islands are using post Viking-era laws to justify their ability to charge tourists.
The “Sheep Letter” from 1298 sets out the rules about compensation for trespass on your land.
The Faroes’ Minister for Trade and Industry, Hogni Hoydal, says that tourism may force them to rewrite their founding laws.
“If tourists pay a fee, or environment tax, then we need to ensure the money is used to protect nature,” he was quoted as saying by the Guardian. “And, I don’t think people should be charging without offering a service.”
In a community of just 55,000 islanders, the Faroe Islands now see more than 110,000 visitors a year.
Tourism taxes have been considered in the Faroe Islands’ “bottom-up” 2030 Tourism Strategy, with claims it is unique in giving farmers the freedom to manage tourism revenue. “It’s the first of its kind to be done in the tourism sector worldwide,” Visit Faroe Islands claims.
It’s a brave decision, given the tourism sector is now worth 6 per cent of exports and more than $200 million to the islands a year.
And the face of that tourism is changing - this year the Faroe Islands gained their first Michelin-Starred restaurant, KOKS, with honourable mentions for two other kitchens, Raest and ROKS, in the Denmark guide.
There are a lot of jobs and possibilities that have suddenly come into existence with the tourism boom.
“When I was at school, all I could think about was getting away from the Faroe Islands,” says project manager Rannva Pousen at 62°N travel agency.
“[Tourism] has given many Faroese people a new perspective on their own home, travelling much more domestically than before.”
However, the tourism boom is somewhere this remote and exposed to the weather, an increase in footfall can lead to erosion and potentially a negative effect on other visitors’ experiences.
The tourism body has had to adapt from encouraging visitors to the remote windswept islands to issuing PSAs on safety and etiquette.
Instagram and social media channels have been encouraging visitors to visit the Faroes safely and observe land restrictions and hiking fees.