Saturday, November 17, 2007

Another phase, a new face

The recent merger of the Trade Council and the Tourist Board into one Trade & Tourism Council is likely to remain high on the new managing director’s agenda for a while—but it doesn’t stop her from bringing scores of innovative ideas to the table. Búi Tyril interviews Elin Heinesen, the new Managing Director of the Trade & Tourism Council.

By Búi Tyril, Annual Business Report 2007

It was widely seen as signifying at least a generational change, if not ushering in something profoundly new, when Elin Heinesen in early 2007 was appointed managing director of the recently formed Faroe Islands Trade & Tourism Council—the merged Faroe Islands Trade Council and Faroe Islands Tourist Board. Not that selecting a female as head of a government agency will necessarily lift eyebrows in a modern society; it’s rather the person, seen in her potential as an inspirational leader and charged with combining the two separate bodies into one unified organization.

Known as a business entrepreneur and something of an artist as well, with a firm footing in media and corporate communications, Ms Heinesen will doubtlessly encourage fledgling creatives to realize their international ambitions. Beyond that, she will be likely to motivate those whose new ideas may offer anything from incremental process improvements to breakthrough business models. Her job will probably consist in facilitating international business contacts to help Faroese companies build their exports, and last but not least, assisting the Faroese develop their incoming travel business.

Speaking of promotion and tourism, before her first day on the new job—which entailed leaving her position as editor of a major Danish in-store magazine and moving back to her native islands in the North after more than twenty years of expatriate life—Ms Heinesen aired an idea that immediately caught the attention of many: Why not make some spectacular tourist attraction out of the soon-abandoned military radar installation on the summit of the Sornfelli mountain. Hey! did you get that one? (See separate article.)

With good management experience—originally trained as a screenwriter, by the way—Ms Heinesen will no doubt use her new position to influence the development of the Faroese business scene. To this end she’ll be backed by the fact that the former Trade Council offered business development advice and vital export promotion services for Faroese companies in the last twenty-five years, while the former Tourist Board invested decades of work and financial resources in market and product development to help build what now is an up and coming tourism sector in the Faroes.

Progressive thinking has ever been at the heart of Ms Heinesen’s personal values. “Nobody can be an expert in every subject,” she says, “but the ability to take a bird’s eye view is often very valuable. I believe in the idea of looking toward the future with confidence yet with realism. In today’s extremely fast-changing world, it’s essential to develop and apply strategies for staying on top of things. Using information and communication technology effectively can make virtually any project so much smoother, quicker and less expensive and what’s more, it will define the very nature of projects—you can’t afford to miss out on it.”

But technology alone won’t do the job; it’s people that shape technology and business processes and, according to Ms Heinesen, the human element remains the most important element in any organization.

“This is interesting because everything is about people and how we interact… But information, communication and technology is forging a new reality; it’s the ‘leveled playing field’ where small companies and nations can be the winners in a myriad markets. Things like innovation and creativity are becoming pivotal in every area of business, and a country like the Faroes has a distinct strength in this context. But I think it’s crucial that we use this as an opportunity.”

As people living in an increasingly globalized environment the Faroese, much like the rest of the world, need to embrace change to whatever extent necessary, and the ability to cooperate effectively and develop strong networks is becoming more important.

“To stay competitive, we have to be inventive and learn how to develop new concepts and think in new terms, to do things in a different way. And when setting our goals and objectives, we have to be strategic and think ahead yet in following through on plans we have to be steady. But nobody can be an expert in every field and that’s why networking is so important… knowing whom to turn to in which situation. With all the new technology—and the Faroes is incredibly well connected—we’re looking at something very intesting.”

Friday, November 16, 2007

Care to dine with a view?

If branding the Faroes involves setting up some spectacular tourist attraction, Elin Heinesen presented what could become the ultimate experience for domestic and foreign visitors alike—a marvel of a Cold War museum offering a majestic view of the mountain tops.

By Búi Tyril, Annual Business Report 2007

Before she had even started in her new position as managing director of the Faroe Islands Trade & Tourism Council, Elin Heinesen had heads spinning accross the islands. “Yes, we do have a magical country,” she said in a public speech in Tórshavn, on the occasion of the St. Gregor’s Mass, an annual spring day event celebrated on 12 March. “But how can we create truly unique experiences that could make this country even more magical for visitors?” Then she proposed what made the headlines: let’s convert the abandoned Sornfelli radar domes and the adjacent facilities inside the mountain into a world-class leisure, entertainment and cultural facility.

“We could think big,” Ms Heinesen suggested, “by, for instance, putting up some spectacular landmarks here for people around the world to become enchanted by. In fact, we’ve got some amazing opportunities, of which I’d like to mention just one, as an idea: 750 meters up in the mountains of Streymoy, there lies something which could become a truly unique landmark, unmatched anywhere in the world. The radar domes and the tunnels and caves carved into the Sornfelli mountain, now abandoned by NATO, are still there—like a secret fairy tale castle cut into solid rock, with the radar domes as towers rising on the summit. For many, many years, this fairy tale castle—like the castle in the tale of Sleeping Beauty—was unapproachable and the public was denied access to its experience; but now… at last we are allowed to see what’s hiding up there.”

Faroese media were quick to follow up on the the story and the daily newspaper Sosialurin printed the entire speech. During the following days and weeks, representatives from the tourism industry and the political establishment would weigh in, approving of the idea.

“This mountain isn’t going anywhere,” said Prime Minister Jóannes Eidesgaard according the the public radio ÚF. “Everything is possible if there is a political will,” he added.

Kent Christensen, a former marketing manager of Atlantic Airways and now head of a travel agency startup, observed: “Creating a leisure and entertainment center on Sornfelli is a good idea… Such a thing could come in handy when you promote the Faroes.”

Back at the speech, which turned out to be wholly devoted to the self-same subject, Ms Heinesen’s went on: “When the weather is clear the view from the summit is stupendous… also with the fog filling the valley down below… I’ve been up there myself once, together with a foreign visitor on a beautiful day, enjoying the sunset. He told me he had once scaled the roof top of the world in the Himalayas, where they would have to walk for days in order to reach the altitude that would afford them a view of the mountain tops—a truly breathtaking experience. ‘You are lucky,’ he said, ‘because here you just take a 15 to 20 minute drive from Tórshavn or half an hour from the airport to get a similar spectacular experience. Standing on the Sornfelli and looking over this vast array of mountains felt just as breathtaking as if it were in the Himalayas. This is pure magic!’ He found it unbelievable that we’re keeping this pearl so secret.”

Ms Heinesen mentioned the possibility of using the caves and tunnels of Sornfelli for cultural and educational purposes as well as a leisure and entertainment center.

“For instance, we could use the tunnels in there for exhibitions… as well as for concerts, congressional meetings, courses—perhaps even a Cold War museum, which could attract international attention… We could let someone build a restaurant up in the domes with a view over all the Faroe Islands…”

Regardless of weather conditions, the bunkers and tunnels are likely to attract many, Ms Heinesen said. Importantly, the construction is already in place and refurbishments won’t even have to be very expensive.

“The place is so intriguing in itself that merely being there offers a very special experience in any circumstances… And the best thing of all: We could in fact develop the site at relatively low cost inasmuch as it is already built. The road goes all the way up. There is an area leveled for parking. It couldn’t be more convenient.

“This could become a magnificent landmark for the Faroes—unique in the whole world—with its own history, international history.”