Find a friend in Iceland through social media

Find a friend in Iceland through social media

One of the many, many benefits of this technological age is that it has allowed destinations to put themselves on the map in a way that they wish to be portrayed.

Social media allows that destination to then broadcast itself at no cost. Visitors too will help spread the message, or portrait, that the destination has chosen.

Take Iceland. This is a destination that was on its knees eight years ago in the worldwide recession. “Relative to the size of its economy, Iceland’s systemic banking collapse was the largest experienced by any country in economic history,” said The Economist.

Fishing and tourism were Iceland’s biggest income. But with no money to promote the country, Iceland reinvented its thinking – and turned to the community for help.

They thought about who they were and why visitors would want to come: ice landscapes, geothermal springs (Blue Lagoon) and Northern Lights were reasons they identified.

The opportunity for an unusual stopover between Europe and North America was another reason. But Icelanders also think of themselves as a friendly nation, and so they decided to make that virtue a selling point.16.02.08 - Find a friend in Iceland through social media

At one of our sessions at World Travel Market last year, Promote Iceland beat off five other nominees to win the best social media campaign of 2015 award – the culmination of five years of hard work in harnessing the community and social media.

Basically, they signed up seven Icelanders called Gudmundur (the most popular name in Iceland) to answer questions about visiting Iceland on social media. The #AskGudmunder campaign took off, with thousands of questions asked.

The campaign video has been seen 1.5m times on YouTube and last November, Promote Iceland took one of its Gudmunders to Paris and London to answer questions on the street.

Now the national airline, Icelandair, has taken things a step further. The carrier announced this week a ‘Stopover Buddy’ service, whereby visitors can request help from airline staff to find the ‘real’ Iceland.

Passengers taking an Icelandair stopover have risen 60% in the past four years: now they might end up with a pilot, or the CEO, taking visitors off-piste skiing, mountain biking or on a cookery class.

The campaign runs until the end of April and further cements a premise of Promote Iceland – that ensuring visitors find the ‘authentic’ Iceland will encourage them to promote the country through social media.

It is part of a trend, meeting residents and finding genuine experiences in a short space of time. Spotted by Locals is a site that sells reports created by residents of 40+ cities, while members of TripBod will arrange bespoke itineraries in their home city, including booking restaurants or exhibition tickets and meeting for a drink. After all, it’s the premise of AirBnB – living like a local, and with social media invariably used to record the results.

The Iceland initiative is a solid premise: promote your country authentically, with community involvement, and visitors will involve themselves and help promote further.

It also typifies ‘social media’ in that it cements interactivity between visitors and locals and encourages them to return: Iceland had more than one million visitors for the first time in 2015, so something is working well.

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Steve Keenan has been a travel journalist for 25 years. He started at a Reed paper, news editing at Travel News in London - now Travel Weekly - having spent a decade reporting general news in the UK and abroad. He also taught English in Peru, delivered cars in the USA, ran the Sydney desk at AAP and took the train home from Hong Kong. He left Travel News in 1990 to freelance for several publications, including The Times of London, which he later joined as deputy travel editor. In December 2004, he became the first national digital travel editor in the UK, running the combined travel website of The Times and Sunday Times. The introduction of a paywall at the papers in 2010 persuaded him that the connected world might continue outside of Wapping and he left to co-found Travel Perspective. The company runs the social media seminars at World Travel Market London, and works with Reed Expos and others in helping the travel and tourism industry best communicate stories in all forms of publishing.

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