Visit Norway has been blasted for its role in the island of Sommarøy’s campaign to become the world’s first time-free zone.
On 24 June, Travel Weekly reported that residents of the small Norwegian island of Sommarøy, which receives nearly 70 days a year without darkness, were lobbying for the island to become a time-free zone in its summer months.
The original report, which stems from a press-release by Visit Norway – the country’s tourism agency – was covered by media around the world, including ABC News and Associated Press giving Sommarøy a stream of global publicity and attention.
But it turns out that the idea of the island becoming a time-free zone was a PR stunt, fit with pictures of a staged meeting with a member of parliament, headed by Visit Norway and Innovation Norway – the government body that oversees the country’s tourism board.
Marianne Mork, head of business communications for Visit Norway, told CNN on that an initiative for a time-free zone did originate with the islanders some time ago, with local Kjell Ove Hveding acting as representative for the group.
However, Innovation Norway had caught wind of the story and worked with the islanders to capitalise on the push for a time-free zone, turning it into a PR exercise.
After meeting with the agency, islanders reportedly gathered at a town hall meeting to sign a petition for a time-free zone and, on 13 June, Hveding met with a Norwegian member of parliament to hand over the locals’ signatures and to discuss the initiative.
Pictures of the meeting between Hveding and the Norwegian member of parliament were captured and disseminated as part of a press release by Innovation Norway, who has admitted that the images were staged.
“I would like to make a clear apology, and promise that we will not do such a thing again,” Innovation Norway’s director Håkon Haugli told local correspondent Aftenposten.
His apology comes after Innovation Norway celebrated the campaign’s success in garnering attention, with the government organisation gloating that the “response has been exceptional”.
The campaign reportedly cost the Norwegian taxpayer €50,000 ($57,000). The money was spent on PR agency fees in Oslo and London.
Mork has since told CNN that the tourism agency regrets not clarifying its part in driving this story.
“We apologize as we should have been more clear from the start about the role of the agency,” Mork said. “However, the initiative is real and came from the islanders themselves, and their time-free way of living is real.”