Tourism promoters fooled the world

Bookmark and Share

State-funded Norwegian tourism promoters mounted what may be their most dubiously successful campaign ever. A northern island that supposedly wanted to stop time grabbed lots of media attention around the world, but now it may cost lots of international credibility.

Sommarøy is a peaceful, pretty fishing village in Northern Norway that already attracted lots of tourists in the summertime. Tourism promoters thought they should lure more, and did so by rather dubious means. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Time ran out this week for the campaign launched by Innovasjon Norge (Innovation Norway), which promotes Norwegian business and tourism. It hatched the idea of issuing a so-called “press release” reporting that residents of the scenic island of Sommarøy outside Tromsø wanted a time-free zone. They were allegedly ditching their watches and wanted to live without the stress of having to adhere to any schedules or appointments.

Visitors to Sommarøy could even find lots of watches reportedly strapped to a local bridge by residents who didn’t want to wear them anymore, and the press release came with photos and video. Several Norwegian media outlets picked up the story, as did international media including CNN, The Guardian, Time Magazine and China Daily.

‘Successful stunt’
They may all feel obliged to write retractions now, after what the tourism director of Innovation Norway, Bente Bratland Holm, calls “a sucessful stunt.” She confirmed to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Tuesday that “some creative souls” at Innovation Norway “came up with the idea last winter, and we aired it to some destinations in Northern Norway.”

The vast area has already been attracting tourists for years, who earlier wanted to see the Midnight Sun and now come in the hopes of seeing the Northern Lights. Their numbers apparently still haven’t been enough for promoters who need to see constant increases to justify their existence – hence the idea of launching what Norway’s national press federation equates with fake news.

“I react negatively that Innovasjon Norge, as a state agency, was behind a press release with arranged photos that tells a story that’s not true,” Kristine Foss, a legal adviser for Norske Presseforbund told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).  The press releases were sent out by a PR bureau that works for Innovation Norway.

Reporters are responsible for checking that information in press releases is correct, but may be forgiven for having believed that Innovation Norway is a credible organization. “This will weaken the media’s confidence in Innovation Norway as a source,” Foss said.

Proud of all the attention
Katrine Mosfjeld, digital marketing chief for Innovation Norway’s travel and tourism division, thinks the agency “has been open if someone asked us.” If anyone had wanted to dig into the issue, she said, Innovation Norway also could present a release that it was behind the stunt.

It was furthered by a Sommarøy resident who’s a part-owner in the island’s only hotel, Kjell Ove Hveding. He purported to hold a community meeting on the idea of “taking back time” and even strapped watches onto the bridge himself. He now claims Sommarøy was meant to be “an ambassador” for all of Northern Norway and that he still believes the idea of trying to “take back time” is a good one.

Hveding told NRK he’s also proud of all the fresh attention Sommarøy and Northern Norway received. Some of his fellow residents, who’d never heard of the “taking back time” campaign until it popped up in the media, now call it all a “bunch of nonsense” and also feel they have more than enough tourists swarming over their island already.

The watches on the bridge, meanwhile, are being removed. NRK reported they’d become a traffic hazard because of all the cars stopping to find out why they’d been hung up.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund