Húsavík is currently hibernating. Even though yesterday was the official start of the Icelandic summer and the weather is gradually improving, cold COVID winds are still keeping the commercial climate chilly in the Icelandic north.
Depleted visitor numbers mean that the town’s famous whale-watching tours are running at drastically reduced capacity. In some cases, its hotels are operating a four-day week or are having to get by on those visiting for work rather than tourism. And the local community’s concession to heavy industry—the silicon manufacturing plant just to the north of Húsavík—recently had to close temporarily due to the pandemic.
By this time of year, the town would normally expect to be welcoming tourists from around the world as it emerged from the winter season. And yet last summer, as the world grappled with coronavirus, the town was buzzing with visitors.
“We got seven or eight weeks that were okay last summer for many companies, and Húsavík was full of life,” confirms Daniel Annisius, chairman of Visit Húsavík (an organisation which represents local tourist businesses).
The difference is not only that Iceland’s borders were more open last summer but also that, back then, Húsavík had just received a powerful shot in the arm to counter the COVID effect.
Hollywood comes to Húsavík
The Netflix film ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’—starring Will Ferrell, and partly set and filmed in Húsavík—was released at the end of June. It generated a huge amount of interest in the town, and brought visitors from both around Iceland and abroad.
One song featured in the film—“Jaja Ding Dong”—fired the imagination of the owners of the Húsavík Cape Hotel, who immediately set up an outdoor bar using the song’s name. Leonardo Piccione, manager of the bar, reports brisk business last summer due to visits from fans of the film.
“We had many people from America or the UK who had watched the movie,” Leonardo recalls. “But also people who were just passionate about Eurovision. There was a couple from Canada who got married in Húsavík, and they came to drink at the bar. They wanted to be here at the Jaja Ding Dong, celebrating!”
The film’s fictitious Icelandic Eurovision entry “Húsavík (My Hometown)” was another song that captured the imaginations of real-life local residents. The Cape Hotel team set about exploring what could be done to make the most of this new asset, and hit upon the idea of getting it nominated for Best Original Song at this year’s Oscars.
They launched a lobbying campaign, which included a locally shot promotional video, and eventually secured that nomination. And so the Oscars ceremony this Sunday will see “Húsavík (My Hometown)” performed by a children’s choir from the town, accompanied by Swedish singer Molly Sandén, who provided vocals for the song in the film.
Whether it wins or not, Leonardo sees this as a win-win situation for the town. “The thing is this song will be played on the biggest stage in the world,” he says. “This is huge for the history of this town because everything is going to change. Nothing is going to be the same after this.”
Painting the town red
Daniel also sees the Oscars as a huge opportunity. Visit Húsavík has been busy preparing the town for Sunday’s announcement, including painting a red carpet on the asphalt of the town’s main road. They’re hoping that it will be the focal point of celebrations if they win, although the gathering ban casts some uncertainty on what form those activities might take.
Looking ahead, Daniel sees an association between the town and Eurovision—an annual event with huge global reach—as benefiting Húsavík for years to come. Visit Húsavík and the Cape Hotel team have been talking to Icelandic broadcaster RÚV to see how they might continue presenting the town as the Icelandic home of Eurovision.
“There are multiple ideas around the Eurovision week,” Daniel says. “We want to see how we can incorporate Húsavík into the competition; for example, to have the final 12-point announcement come live from here.”
Making an exhibition of Eurovision
The Cape Hotel team is taking the opportunity to develop a permanent Eurovision exhibition annexed to the Jaja Ding Dong Bar.
“We have authorisations from both Netflix and the European Broadcasting Union, and it is going to be called the Húsavík Eurovision Song Contest Exhibition,” Leonardo explains. “It will be about both the movie and the actual Eurovision contest itself. Netflix is sending us costumes and props from the movie.” He adds that they are also talking to an international range of former Eurovision artists to acquire costumes, and have already secured a donation from Icelandic artists Hatari to mark their infamous appearance at the competition in 2019.
So Húsavík has its collective fingers crossed for good news from LA on Sunday. But whatever happens, once the cold covid winds die down and visitors return, the people of Húsavík may have succeeded in creating a new—and slightly glitzier—image for their hometown, and found a way to realise its full potential.
Accommodation provided by Fosshótel Húsavík.
See Húsavík latest video promoting the town’s bid for an Oscar!
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