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Swede Idea: Tourism Association Connects Callers With Real Swedes

In a move designed to inspire serendipity, the Swedish Tourist Association last week launched a phone number designed to connect callers from around the world with random volunteers who offer up their time to discuss Sweden.

Is your drab, non-Swedish life getting you down? Give +46-771-793-336 a ring.

That number is your connection to a random Swedish volunteer who will tell you all about the country he or she calls home. And you can thank the Swedish Tourist Association (STA) for that unusually direct connection.

The trade group, which markets the country to the world at large, launched its experimental Swedish Number campaign last week, in honor of the 250th anniversary of the country’s move to abolish censorship, the first country in the world to do so.

The experiment has drawn the attention of numerous media outlets, as well as lots of people curious to see whether the line is just a late April Fool’s joke.

As an intrepid reporter, I can tell you that it’s no joke. I tried the service for myself, using some spare change I had on Google Voice. I reached a young man named Shawn, who lives outside Stockholm. He told me that I was only the fourth person he had talked to through the service, and that the calls were just as much of a surprise for him as they were for everyone else. The last person he talked to was disappointed that Shawn wasn’t retired hockey star Peter Forsberg.

“We’re just random people who have signed up on an app,” Shawn said.

(If you’d like to try the service yourself without running into extra fees, you can call 301-276-0600 in the U.S., one of several countries in which STA has offered a local number to call Sweden.)

So, why go to all this effort? Swedish Tourist Association CEO and Secretary General Magnus Ling told The New York Times that the goal is to offer outsiders a more realistic view of the country than they might get from reading a Lonely Planet guide.

The Swedish Number, which will remain active for the next two months, evokes another unusually direct marketing strategy associated with the country. Since 2011, Visit Sweden and the Swedish Institute have offered volunteer Swedes control of the country’s official Twitter account, @sweden. Each curator gets control of the account for a single week.

This week’s curator, Daniel Ddiba, is a Ugandan-born resident of Stockholm.

What’s your favorite thing about Sweden? Tell us all about it in the comments.

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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