This article was updated in November 2019.

Image: Statista

Stark, rugged and sparsely populated, it’s not difficult to see why the Faroe Islands have become a draw for tourists in search of solitude, outdoor pursuits and nature.

The mountainous archipelago sitting in the North Atlantic between Scotland and Iceland welcomes around 110,000 visitors each year. In a place where inhabitants are outnumbered by their sheep, that’s a fair number of people. And the fragile environment is starting to see the effects.

So, in April 2020 the Faroe Islands plan to close their popular tourist sites for a repair and clean-up mission. A hundred keen volunteers will be selected to be part of the maintenance crew, and will be given food and housing over the two-day initiative.

The move builds on a pilot project in spring 2019, where 100 volunteers from around the world helped repair and future-proof some of the islands' most popular tourist spots.

The “closed for business, open for voluntourism” trial initiative closed several key sites for maintenance over a weekend. Teams worked to create walking paths in well-trodden areas, erect signs, and repair ancient stone structures.

Volunteers also got to sample local food and drink and take part in traditional dancing. The Faroe Islands were overrun with applicants for the initiative, with over 3,500 people vying for places.

Full to capacity

In 2017 tourism contributed $8.2 trillion to the global economy. It creates a huge number of jobs, and enables economic growth and development across the globe. And the industry is predicted to keep on growing.

But over-tourism is a problem for the world’s top sites: as the chart below shows, many cities are now struggling under the mass of visitors. Various definitions of over-tourism exist, with most focusing on the excessive and negative influence of tourists on the lives of local citizens and the experience of other visitors.

Image: Statista

Vulnerable habitats such as Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands are placing restrictions on the size of cruise ships and number of people disembarking, in a bid to ensure sustainability. Peru’s Inca trail restricts the number of trekking permits available, and Rwanda limits passes to see its mountain gorillas.

The diversity of countries in the World Economic Forum’s latest Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report rankings demonstrates there is no one-size-fits-all answer to solving the burden of too many visitors. But perhaps in the future we’ll see other destinations taking the Faroe Islands’ lead in asking visitors to help look after the sites they’ve travelled to see.