Executive Summary

Film shoots have the power to elevate even completely banal places to unique experiences worthy of a visit.

Starring in a film has become a surefire way to boost tourism for a destination.

Tourism in New Zealand boomed following the Lord of Rings trilogy. The country launched a huge marketing campaign aimed at making the country synonymous with “middle-earth,” Air New Zealand painted its livery with Hobbit-themed images, and Hobbiton became one of the country’s most visited attractions.

VisitBritain similarly integrated tourism marketing efforts with the Bond film Skyfall, Virginia touted itself as the site of Lincoln’s filming, and North Carolina turned Hunger Games into an advertisement for its outdoors.

Now destination marketing organizations are realizing the trend and looking to convert the international attention a destination can draw from a movie or TV series into travel bookings.

However, many questions still remain for destination marketers who worry about a dark story plot painting a location in a negative light or who attempt to calculate an appropriate marketing investment for a brand new series.

Hotels, airlines, and restaurants all have the opportunity to benefit from film tourism if given the tools and information to connect the themes brought up in the story with their business offerings.

In the following report, we will cover what motivates travelers to visit a destination featured in a movie, how to manage the long-term relationship with a TV series, how to turn dark story plots into positive tourism bumps, how to tap into the themes made popular by recent films, and factors to consider before marketing begins.

We also highlight several case studies and the lessons that destination marketing organizations can learn from them. Finally, we outline 8 marketing initiatives and 12 key takeaways from the report.

Trends in Destination Branding Through Film and TV

A 2006 ad campaign for US Tourism for U.K. and Japan by MC & Saatchi

A 2006 ad campaign for US Tourism for U.K. and Japan by MC & Saatchi

Behind the trend

The magic of film can turn an ordinary location into an experience and can move famous and hardly-known attraction to top of millions of visitors’ bucket lists. The tourism benefits of having a blockbuster film shot in a location are immense and well-documented. Seeing a destination in a film is the ultimate product placement — a two-hour commercial showcasing and exposing the destination that people pay to see.

An early example of the power of film for promoting a destination came in 1964 when the Beatles began filming their second movie in the Bahamas. The Bahamas Tourism Board noticed the screaming crowd that saw the Fab Four off at Heathrow Airport and the press that followed them. Now, the organization actively works with film studios to draw film crews and to ensure that the islands are highlighted in the film and its promotion.

The economic benefit to local economies is huge. In 2012, Tourism Competitive Intelligence found that 40 million international tourists chose their destination primarily because they saw a film shot in that country. Up to 10 percent of tourists in the survey cite movies as a factor in deciding on their destination.

VisitBritain found that 40 percent of international respondents in a 2008 poll said that they were very likely to visit locations associated with movies and television shows if they were to visit the country. Of international tourists to the UK in 2006, 3 percent visited locations that are associated with film, books and music such as the James Bond films and Harry Potter series.

The bump in tourism to sites featured in individual films is well-documented.

After shooting, a film location is an all-season, all-weather attraction that has the potential to entertain and draw tourists for years. The tourism academic R.W. Riley found that tourism interest peaks immediately after the release of the film and results in an average 50 percent increase in visitation for at least five years after its debut.

Serving as the set for a film or television show increases the cultural value of a location, much like major one-off events such as historical moments or hosting the Olympics. Without the notoriety of having hosted a filming location, a beautiful home, beach or restaurant is the same as any other.


Film releases’ effect on select locations
Sources: Promoting Destinations via Film Tourism: An Empirical Identification of Supporting Marketing Initiatives by Simon Hudson and J.R. Brent Ritchie, referencing Riley and van Doren (1992); Tooke and Baker (1996); Grihault (2003); Croy and Walker (2003); Cousins and Anderek (1993); Busby, Brunt and Lund (2003); Riley, Baker, and van Doren (1998), and other sources.

Film shoots have the power to elevate even completely banal places to unique experiences worthy of a visit. A spokesperson for the tourism board for the small city of Scranton, Pennsylvania, reports fielding numerous calls for information about the chain restaurant Chili’s after it was shown in a scene in The Office. The series is set in Scranton, but almost exclusively filmed in California. The Chili’s in question didn’t even exist, but visitors were still eager to see it and walk in the footsteps of their beloved characters and stars.

What motivates tourists seeking movie sets

Tourism and entertainment serve many of the same needs. It helps to understand the factors that inspire different types of film tourists to choose a destination.

Film tourism is not exclusively limited to the die-hard fans. According to Mijalce Gjorgievski, Vice Chancellor at the University of Tourism and Management in Skopje, Macedonia, films can provide what marketers call “push and pull factors.” Push factors are the base reasons for wanting to travel such as self-actualization, escape and personal prestige.

“Attractions seen in a movie are not only associated with the allure of filmed landscapes, but also with reasons for travel, escape and nostalgia. People travel because they are pushed by their internal motivations and simultaneously pulled by external forces of the destination attributes.” he writes.

Pull factors include location attributes such as scenery, climate, culture, and history. Association with a story that the tourist enjoys, even if the subject matter is not entirely pleasant, is what makes the trip worth it.

There are multiple pull factors that draw film tourists in particular.

Stefan Roesch of Film Tourism, which consults destinations marketers on promoting film tourism, identifies several factors that contribute to a location’s attractiveness including landscape features, recognition value of the destination, film set remains, importance of the location to the storyline, its connection to the characters, incorporated sights and external factors such as accessibility.

The two types of tourists inspired by film

There is a difference between location tourism and film-induced tourism.

Location tourists are usually die-hard fans who seek out the locations featured in the films to take pictures of themselves reenacting scenes. These fans treat the visit to the film set like a religious pilgrimage and they find the locations before they are actually marketed.

One example of the popularity of reenacting scenes comes from a Korean romance called ‘Winter Sonata.’ In a famous scene, the lovers hold hands while walking on a distinct log. The log couldn’t handle the flood of fans reenacting the scene.

“As many visitors attempted to copy the scene from their favorite film, the famous log has been broken and removed from the location since it cannot cope with the large number of visitors,” explained Walaiporn Rewtrakunphaiboon, a lecturer at Bangkok University’s Department of Tourism and Hotel Studies.

In contrast to location tourists, film-induced tourists are those who are inspired to visit a country after seeing it on screen. They might visit filming locations if they are part of the area’s tourism circuit, but they don’t go just to see the sets. For example, Lord of the Rings fans might visit the set of Hobbiton, but others might simply be inspired to visit New Zealand after learning that the fantastic natural vistas in the film are real places that they can visit.

Case study: Lord of the Rings’ impact on New Zealand tourism

The 2001 release of the first Lord of the Rings movie was a landmark for film tourism that other destinations still look to as the prime example of a film attracting visitors and helping brand an entire nation.

Tourists in Hobbiton Sources: Sheila Thompson on Flickr

Tourists in Hobbiton Sources: Sheila Thompson on Flickr

The stars were uniquely aligned for New Zealand, which stood in for Middle Earth, the fantasy nation in J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous series. The movies were released as a series giving marketers the opportunity to learn better practices as it progressed.
The director, Peter Jackson, is a native New Zealander who demanded to work there. The films were released as international travel was growing cheaper and becoming more popular. The stories were already beloved by generations of readers. And the movies starred internationally acclaimed actors such as Ian McKellen and Elijah Wood.

New Zealand’s destination branding was also particularly effective at leveraging the film into greater tourism numbers.

In 2003, the year that the last installment of the Lord of the Rings series premiered, 93 percent of visitors to the country were aware of the films, 86 percent said that they were aware that the films were shot in the country, and 8 percent of visitors cited the movie as at least one major reason for their decision to visit New Zealand.

Of potential tourists, 61 percent said that they are more motivated to see the country after seeing the films.
Screen Tourism Marketing p2Screen Tourism Marketing p1
In 2004 alone, film tourists spent $700 million in New Zealand. Total international tourist spend doubled to $6 billion at the end of 2004, up from $3.1 billion when filming began.
“New Zealand as a destination is on the bucket list for an awful lot of Americans and around the world. It’s a bit of a fight to rise to number one,” says Gregg Anderson, General Manager for Western Long-Haul Markets for Tourism New Zealand. He has worked through the Lord of the Rings trilogy and is now working on promoting New Zealand through the current Hobbit series.

“When you have something that invades pop culture like these movies have, it helps propel New Zealand to the top of the list, especially when you combine with the work of the airlines and other tourism operators and retail sellers.”

Air New Zealand partnered with Warner Bros. to help brand and promote the country’s national carrier. They used the “Airline to Middle Earth” tagline and decorated the side of the planes with movie art. The airline’s in-flight safety videos featuring flight attendants in elf costumes became one of the most popular airline safety videos on YouTube, with over 11 million views.

These tourists who came to New Zealand weren’t exclusively Tolkien fans, but many were. Tour groups dressed as elves are commonplace at Hobbiton, the preserved set where fans visit and stand in for the characters. Lord of the Rings guidebooks became best-sellers and tour operators proliferated.

New Zealand was a stand-in for a fictional place, but the stunning natural geography helped brand the country as a green location for tourists who aren’t interested in pilgrimages to Hobbiton. The gorgeous scenery jived well with New Zealand’s already active ‘100% Pure’ branding.

“Tourists read New Zealand as a ‘green and clean’ country despite its reality of being a highly industrialised country facing considerable economic, socio-cultural and environmental challenges,” says Anne Buchmann, professor of Tourism Management at the University of Newcastle in Australia. “This situation coincidences with a worldwide rise in ‘green consumerism’ and its assumable eventual demand for tourism products with a lower ecological footprint.”

Anderson from Tourism New Zealand says that the movie studio and tourism department didn’t work together until the national agency saw the film’s beautiful treatment of New Zealand’s natural scenery and the actor’s favorable statements about the country. For the second trilogy, they are working together more.

“I think the issues we have learned is that working with a movie studio, it’s like an assembly line. You need to fit in with the assembly line. We initially thought we could dictate terms and speed, and that the movie studio wouldn’t mind. They do mind. They own the intellectual property,” he says.

“The great thing about the relationship we have this time is that we can test the boundaries both ways,” Anderson says. “I think it is all about relationships. Really sitting down and exploring with the studio just how your brand can be integrated through the movie. There will be some instances where it will work. Others where it will not. Go in with an open mind and understand.”

He gave the example of New Zealand’s success in getting the studio to host the premier for last year’s “The Hobbit” in Wellington, which is estimated to have brought $12 million to the area’s economy.

Even for tourists that aren’t huge Tolkien fans, they might participate in film tourism activities like Hobbiton that are now part of the tourist circuit when visiting New Zealand. The visits from international actors and their honest reports of enjoying the country inspires adventure seekers and foodies in addition to “Hobbit” superfans.

Takeaway: It is a blessing when a series settles into a town. It is an enormous chance to develop long-term relationships with the film industry and earn honest celebrity endorsements.

Television’s renaissance and what it means for tourism

As Euroscreen, an organization that promotes screen tourism in Europe, recently blogged, we are living in the golden era of the series. A TV series, like a movie trilogy, gives destination marketers a wider window for experimenting and deepening their relationship with the entertainment industry.

Sex and the City fans line up to take a photo on a character’s New York stoop on a tour Source: Luis Villa del Campo on Flickr

Sex and the City fans line up to take a photo on a character’s New York stoop on a tour
Source: Luis Villa del Campo on Flickr

Hit series such as Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, and Mad Men captivate audiences over several years and give destinations a longer time period to build up and perfect marketing efforts. Experts say that television and serial films have more potential to inspire tourism than individual films.

“A TV series is the ultimate way to market. People see the places and beloved characters again and again and deepen their connection to the place over several years. Film tourism in the future will focus more and more on the TV series,” Roesch says.

Such series have proven to have persistent staying power, especially as services such as Netflix, Hulu, and OnDemand channels make it easier to begin watching a series after its live episodes have stopped airing.

“There’s nothing small about the small screen anymore,” says Gretchen Kelly, who covers entertainment tourism for her website, travelhushhush.com, and consults destination marketing organizations on their film tourism strategy. “A TV actor used to have a lower cash value than movie actors, but that isn’t the case anymore.”

This is especially true as “binge watching” television shows over the internet grows in popularity.

“Travel bleeds into all aspects of our lives, but it really melds with entertainment. People pick places to go based on what they see. A person watching a film or TV show might do so on their computer while booking or planning their next trip in another window or on another screen,” she says.

There is no such thing as bad publicity

Destination marketers are often understandably skittish about their destination becoming the backdrop for a dark story. Some are hesitant to market their community based on a storyline that might give it a negative stereotype, while others embrace it.

In practice, an unhappy story can be just as beneficial as a bright one.

Bruges plotted filming locations with a gun icon, and mixed in traditional tourist attractions as well onto this map Source: Tourism Bruges

Bruges plotted filming locations with a gun icon, and mixed in traditional tourist attractions as well onto this map
Source: Tourism Bruges

James Petrick, a professor of recreation, park, and tourism sciences at Texas A&M University says that negative connotations from entertainment are better than no connotations at all. A movie or TV show’s worth for pulling in tourists has more to do with how much people enjoy it than the subject matter of the show.

“The worst thing you can be in a destination is average,” he says. “People are looking for something new when they travel. When you see a TV show like Breaking Bad that deals with very controversial issues, it draws people to the place. It associates its setting with a powerful story that is anything but average. The experience of watching Breaking Bad is positive so that goes onto the destination itself.”

There are many other cases where destinations embraced their role in crime and horror movies. The 2008 black comedy In Bruges dealt with hitmen, killings, and prostitution.

And despite showcasing the picturesque Belgian town’s medieval architecture, the location itself was the butt of many of the jokes. Colin Farrel’s character utters lines such as “If I’d grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”

Despite the poor portrayal, the city’s tourism office embraced the film’s fans. They published a map of the film’s locations, many of which are tourist locations to begin with, marked with a gun icon. Local hotels offered packages associated with the movie.

This prepared the city for the influx of tourists who heard of the place for the first time through the film. In the minds of potential tourists, the depictions of Bruges’ cobbled streets and museums outweighed Farrel’s jabs.

Roger Ebert, the film critic wrote, “If the movie accomplished nothing else, it inspired in me an urgent desire to visit Bruges… It shows us a breathtakingly beautiful city.”

Case study: How Albuquerque learned to love Breaking Bad

Albuquerque, New Mexico embraced the wildly popular series about the drug business Source: Albuquerque Tourism and Convention Bureau

Albuquerque, New Mexico embraced the wildly popular series about the drug business
Source: Albuquerque Tourism and Convention Bureau

“Breaking Bad” is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed televisions shows in recent memory. The series culminated with a 10.3 million viewers, not counting the millions more who watched it on streaming services such as Netflix and DVDs.

This is despite, or perhaps due to, the dark subject matter. The series follows a high school chemistry teacher who begins manufacturing methamphetamine to pay for his own cancer treatment. He continues his life of crime even after his cancer goes into remission. He kills numerous people and ruins the lives of his loved ones in the process.

At first, residents of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the series is set, were unhappy about the dark, violent spotlight shining on their town. Yet this often disturbing show has been an enormous boon to the city’s tourism economy. The city’s destination marketing organization admits that it was taken by surprise by the sudden popularity and tourism interest.

“Once we heard the topic, we thought this is probably not something we will be too thrilled about,” says Megan Mayo Ryan of the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“We just let it happen, and didn’t connect to it from a tourism perspective until the third season. We started getting nice recognition when the show started getting awards and it started getting Albuquerque into the conversation.”

The show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, admits that the show was originally conceived to take place in Riverside, Calif., but New Mexico’s film and television subsidies were too good to pass up. Rather than use Albuquerque as a stand-in for Riverside, he wrote the city into the show. “Breaking Bad” showcased the area’s natural beauty.

“In our opinion, they did a great job of capturing the beauty of New Mexico from the beginning. When the characters were out in the west mesa making drugs, you see this beautiful vista of amazing clouds, blue sky, and beautiful sunsets in that vast expanse of the high desert,” Mayor Ryan said. “That played into the intrigue for people that never thought about New Mexico. People don’t really have an impression about Albuquerque, but we are seeing them come and see the filming locations and then do several other things around town.”

Albuquerque’s film tourism push surrounding Breaking Bad was a grassroots effort at first. The Albuquerque Trolley Company started giving weekly tours of filming locations that usually sell out. The Candy Lady, a local confectioner, offered tours of locations by limo. For the first two seasons, the candy shop made the “blue meth” as props for the show. So far, it has sold tourists 35,000 bags of the candy to tourists for $1 each. Sales of the fake drug jumped after Bryan Cranston, who plays Breaking Bad’s main character handed one to David Letterman on national television.

A motel that the show Breaking Bad transformed into a tourist destination Source: Butforthesky on Flickr

A motel that the show Breaking Bad transformed into a tourist destination / Source: Butforthesky on Flickr

The tourism board now prominently features film tourism and Breaking Bad on their website with an interactive map of filming locations and traditional tourist attractions.

The show’s stars, some of whom bought homes and lived in the city, also promote the city for free. Cranston sang the city’s praises to Reddit users and Gilligan touted the city’s natural landscape and art galleries in the New York Times.

The Albuquerque Visitor Bureau’s microsite for Breaking Bad-related tourism is the biggest source of traffic besides the primary website’s landing page.

Takeaway: Entertainment doesn’t have to necessarily show the location in a good light. Even a dark tragedy about drugs and murder could drum up interest and contribute to the local economy, especially if the show is a hit and the actors enjoy shooting there.

Destinations not on film can still benefit from film-induced tourism

The Motorcycle Diaries, the story of the young Che Guevara’s life-changing travels around South America, put the continent on many travelers’ bucket lists after it was released in 2004.

The film took place and was filmed in several countries, but Bolivia was not among them. However, annual international arrivals to Bolivia still increased by 22 percent between 2003 and 2005.

Bolivia benefitted in the wake of renewed attention to the Latin American revolutionary. The historical Guevara spent a great deal of time in Bolivia, ultimately meeting his end in La Higuera. Bolivia didn’t need to host film crews to capitalize on the movie’s international popularity.

The movie, based on the revolutionary’s memoirs, simply sparked interest. The tourism ministries of Bolivia, Argentina and Cuba are still collaborating on a three-country itinerary based on his life.

Similarly, the 2012 film Lincoln by Steven Spielberg was mainly filmed in Virginia, but Illinois, the “Land of Lincoln,” still offered film-based promotions and discounts for activities tied to the 16th president. The state even aired a commercial with its tiny plastic Abraham Lincoln doll mascot to wish the film good luck at the Oscars.

Wales highlighted the fact that its country was the birthplace of Richard Burton when the classic actor was portrayed in the widely panned, but well watched TV movie Liz & Dick aired. Visit Wales seized the newfound attention to their local resident and created a Richard Burton Trail itinerary that visited the places associated with him and Elizabeth Taylor. It also held a sweepstakes for a free Burton-themed package soon after the movie aired.

Washington D.C. is a popular setting for movies and TV, but filming rarely takes place there. However, when hit movies touch on themes that D.C. is known for, it is still parlayed into promotions. The Spy Museum took advantage of the popularity of the Academy Award-winning film Argo and opened an exhibit about the real history of the Tony Mendez and his daring foray into Iran with declassified documents and artifacts.

Marketers can also tap into tourism themes made popular by entertainment. The 2004 film Sideways brought the notion of wine touring to the masses. The several Santa Barbara County, California, vintners who made cameos are still famous thanks to the movie, but wine tours in other regions such as New York’s North Fork also reported greater numbers of tourists after the film.

Eat, Pray, Love was about a transformative trip abroad, but that didn’t stop hoteliers in Texas, Maryland, Utah, Arizona and New York City from offering promotional packages themed on the book and film.

Case study: North Carolina is portrayed as everywhere but itself

A set from The Hunger Games Source: Visit North Carolina

A set from The Hunger Games Source: Visit North Carolina

Destination marketers need to work harder to draw the connection between a successful entertainment product and a filming location when the story plot is set somewhere else.
North Carolina is one of the most aggressive U.S. states when it comes to attracting film companies. Its economic incentives and diverse landscape have drawn production for several recent hits such as The Hunger Games and Iron Man 3.

The tourism office works very closely with the film office. Margo Knight Metzger, a state tourism spokesperson, says that the two departments share office space. The film office keeps tourism officials in the loop so they can have spin-off promotions ready before the the show opens.

Metzger says that it is much easier to market films with good scenery. For instance, The Hunger Games used North Carolina locations to represent a fictional world and was easier to market to tourists than a series like Homeland, which is taped in Charlotte but appears to take place in Washington, D.C.

“Films like Hunger Games allow us to show off our state’s natural, scenic beauty. We get the word out by pitching national media and asking them to share the story. For instance, we invited NBC’s TODAY Show to do a live remote from inside DuPont State Forest on the day the film was released. That takes a lot of time and effort, but it’s the best way to let the world know that they’re seeing North Carolina on the big screen,” she says.

“When the filming location is a little less obvious, we just have to work a bit harder to spread the word. We develop itineraries that help film pilgrims sniff out the places off the beaten path. It might just be a water tower or a nondescript downtown, but for a big fan that is a satisfying find.”

Takeaway: If it isn’t obvious that a hit film was filmed in a specific location, it will take extra work and preparation to make the connection for consumers.

Incentives and the difficulty of measuring return on investment

For any production, even those with multi-million dollar budgets, every dime counts. Like the multi-year bids to host one-off events such as the Olympics, the competition to bring film crews into any given state or city is fierce.

In some cases, as with Breaking Bad, the filming location is chosen primarily to save money. Other locations are dismissed because of high costs. North Dakota lost production of a TV show named after one of its towns, Fargo, to Canada because incentives were better up north.

Film Crew in San Francisco’s Mission District Source: bormang2 on Flickr

Film Crew in San Francisco’s Mission District Source: bormang2 on Flickr

Most destinations have a local film bureau and their generosity varies. The median for all 50 U.S. states is a 25 percent tax rebate, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Michigan offers up to 42 percent of the cost of the production.

There are usually thresholds for the percentage of the film shot in the area or caps on percentage of the total cost covered by the state. Iceland offers a 20 percent reimbursement for costs when 80 percent of a film is shot in the country. Malta gives a higher rebate depending on the film’s “cultural test.” If the movie shows Malta as Malta and let’s the viewer know it, the filmmaker gets a larger reward.

Naturally, economic incentives aren’t the only thing that attracts film production in a given location. This is where the tourism agency can help. The destination’s film and tourism promoters often also lend support. They often negotiate discounted hotel rooms and escort location scouts to help them find locations that fit their needs.

“A tourism partnership with a film studio is seen as a brand partnership and largely based on marketing in-kind (MIK). The studios give us official film assets such as titles, logos and other imagery free of charge in exchange for our work on marketing and media exposure, large-scale promotions and PR across our network of channels,” says Denitsa Mihova, who manages film tourism partnerships for VisitBritain.

“This exchange is a unique non-commercial agreement due to the fact VisitBritain is a government body and can offer so much in return. For the same benefits, a commercial partner would need to pay a separate license fee. However, our offer always has to be a compelling one.”

Not all destination marketers see filming incentives as potential tourism drivers, however. Policymakers tend to focus on the economic benefits of hosting the actual filming, paying locals and patronizing local businesses even though tourism could potentially outweigh the immediate filming benefits in the long term.

“In studies that examine the full range of economic benefits from film credits, the impacts from tourism and capital investments can be more significant than the impact of the film production activity,” according to an Ernst & Young study funded by the MPAA.

“Significant increases in state tourism can be tied to film productions. In some cases, widely viewed films increased tourism to featured locations by more than 25 percent.”

Other studies say that this may be overstated. A 2010 paper by Robert Tannenwald of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says that such studies are obviously biased. One Ernst & Young study estimated that in 2007, 32 percent all new economic activity generated by New Mexico’s rebate came in the form of film tourism, but it was based on non-representative sample.

Assessing the return on investment for film and TV-related tourism is extremely elusive. As mentioned earlier, New Zealand found that 8 percent of arrivals explicitly cited the Lord of the Rings films as a reason for their visit, but about three quarters had seen the movie before arriving. Those who were aware of the movies and its promotions for travel might not have come specifically because of the movies, but they might have gotten the idea to look into New Zealand after seeing them. None of the other destination marketers interviewed for this paper were able to put a dollar figure or rough estimate of visitors that resulted from a film and subsequent spin-off marketing for the destination.

Some destination marketers are unsure of the benefits of marketing around films or don’t have the budget to invest in film tourism.

“Most DMOs don’t get involved with film tourism because the ROI is very difficult to measure, as it is with traditional advertising brochures,” says Simon Hudson, Director of the Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development at the University of South Carolina. “The majority of tourists might participate in a film tourism activity but it isn’t the main reason for being there. The major advantage is the exposure, which is hard to measure.”

Hudson says that films are much more effective because consumers don’t perceive it as a product placement. The effectiveness of marketing around entertainment still hinges on the show’s popularity, and like any investment, it could deliver middling results for tourism.

It helps to bring in outside entertainment experts, or even have someone with an entertainment background on staff to assess the value of marketing around a film or TV show.

How to tell if a movie is worth co-promoting

Tourism boards certainly don’t want to throw a lot of hype behind a bad film that nobody will see. This is why it helps to have the advice of someone with industry experience.

“You need to get a deep grounding on the buzz in advance. See what fans and critics are saying about the upcoming movie,” says Gretchen Kelly, the journalist and film tourism consultant. “It helps to have someone on staff who really loves movies or has a background in the entertainment industry that could judge what could play. Do your due diligence. If you don’t, you end up spending a lot of money co-promoting a movie for nothing or you get caught unprepared when a giant hit comes along.”

Kelly gives the example of Disney’s recent film, The Lone Ranger, which was made in several locations in the Western U.S. New Mexico pushed to associate itself with the movie and hosted hundreds of journalists on a junket. The film starred Johnny Depp and had a budget of over $200 million, but it was a critical and box office flop.

Despite the risks, destination marketers can often afford to highlight the association at minimal cost.

Stefan Roesch, the film tourism consultant, says that destination marketers can use filming locations to elevate their product over competitors’ without spending too much money.

He points out the missed opportunity at the remote Norwegian village of Finse, which served as the glacial backdrop in George Lucas’ Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, a film adored by thousands of geeks even decades later. The website of the Finse 1222 Hotel where the cast and crew stayed during filming makes no mention of the movie.

“It’s not just a hotel on any glacier, its the Star Wars glacier. It makes it even more special. You can just say ‘This was filmed here,’ without an issue with copyright.
It doesn’t cost anything to put it on the website or do a glacier tour,” he says.

“It’s hard to measure marketing in general. If it’s around the film, it’s practically for free, you should use it. I find it astonishing sometimes how little some tourist businesses think about the possibilities.”

How to leverage stars’ presence

The actors starring in Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and Breaking Bad promoted the filming destination during and after shooting. The shared experiences can further motivate travelers to visit a destination and destination marketers can note kind words again in marketing materials.

“We make a list of all the locations they are using, and we use our contacts in the tourism and film industries to give us insight. When a hotel, restaurant or attraction has been frequented by a famous actor, it can be a fun marketing strategy,” says Margo Knight Metzger of North Carolina Tourism.

“We find out everywhere they have filmed, and we ask locals to give us the scoop on the actors’ favorite hangouts and restaurants. We’ve been known to follow stars and local reporters on Twitter to see what they’re saying. But we keep it all under wraps until production has ended so that we don’t cause any interference for the crew. We take all of this information and develop an itinerary that a fan can follow when they visit.”

Virginia’s Lincoln microsite included filming locations and the actors’ favorite haunts while filming in Richmond Source: Virginia Tourism Corporation

Virginia’s Lincoln microsite included filming locations and the actors’ favorite haunts while filming in Richmond
Source: Virginia Tourism Corporation

Virginia, where Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln was filmed, reports increased interest in the real Civil War and emancipation history in the state, but also made a microsite of filming locations and the restaurants and stores that the stars frequented.

“We just wanted a fully integrated experience for people, to follow in Steven [Spielberg] and Daniel [Day Lewis]’s footsteps. Where did they stay and visit? Which winery did they frequent? Where did they sit?” says Rita McClenny, the former director of the Virginia Film Office the current CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation. “People want to immerse themselves in their experiences.”

The film, in which the Virginia statehouse, the seat of the Confederate government during the war, ironically stood in for the U.S. Capitol, was filmed out in the open. Residents spotted the famous actors on and off set and said so on social media, creating buzz for the city. One photographer caught an incredible shot of Daniel Day Lewis in full makeup looking like a dead ringer for the 16th president, but he was out of costume at a local steakhouse. The image instantly went viral on the internet, generating buzz for where the movie was filmed.

A star’s bad experience can also do harm; however, which emphasizes the importance of actively advising film producers to steer actors towards the best businesses. One recent example was The Hangover 2, which was filmed in Bangkok.

The movie shows only the worst side of the Thai capital and one of the stars reported that he was sick the entire time. Ed Helms got food poisoning soon after arriving and lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This was not a good news report for a country with such a strong culinary culture.

Roger Ebert called the movie a commercial for alternative destinations like Singapore.

How entertainment helps destination marketers reach different customers

A successful film can benefit even the most popular tourism destinations if it reaches a new demographic or a new source country.

Smaller, lesser-known destinations could be completely changed by a hit movie. Filming singlehandedly takes the place from generic to magical.

For example, the small city of Southport, N.C. recorded 322 visits to its tourism website in January of this year. On Valentine’s Day, Safe Haven, a romantic drama which was filmed in the town debuted, boosting the February page view total to 86,981. In the four months following the debut, over a quarter of a million potential tourists visited the website.

It is harder for big cities and famous tourist meccas to notice the benefits of film tourism. But films can give major destinations, hotels and resorts a chance to appeal to a non-core demographic. The Hangover, which took place in Las Vegas encouraged the “mancation” trend for young men. The movie was inspired by the city’s tourism slogan, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

Caesar’s Palace even created the fictional suite that the characters stayed in (with the same price quoted in the movie) to accommodate male foursomes looking to recreate the fun they saw on the screen.

Los Angeles’ biggest attraction is the entertainment industry itself. But when a movie emphasizes some of its other charms, such as a film with an architect protagonist, they highlight it in their marketing.

“Because L.A. is the creative capital of the world and so much is filmed here, we have our finger on the pulse of entertainment and know what TV shows and movies will resonate with the public,” says Kimberli Samuel, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Bureau.

“For popular films based in L.A., L.A. Tourism releases a locations guide highlighting attractions that were featured in the film or TV show. When the hit film 500 Days of Summer was released, L.A. Tourism released an architecture and attraction guide. The Artist was also a great film for L.A. as so much of the city’s architecture was so beautifully portrayed.”

Popular locations can also reach different demographics through film. Switzerland attracts hundreds of thousands of Indian tourists thanks to its frequent portrayal in Bollywood movies. The “cut to Switzerland” where characters are suddenly transported to the picturesque Alps is a familiar trope in Hindi movies that exposes millions of Indians to the country. Famed Bollywood director Yash Chopra spent his honeymoon in Gstaad, and promised his wife that he would film at least one scene in each of his movies in the country. There are tour buses that screen Bollywood classics as they travel to filming locations.

Indian movie star Sharukh Khan on the streets of London for Jab Tak Hai Jaan Source: YouTube

Indian movie star Sharukh Khan on the streets of London for Jab Tak Hai Jaan / Source: YouTube

The U.K. also appears in many Indian films. Indian visitors to the U.K. are more interested than most in seeking out film locations. A 2007 VisitBritain survey found that half of Indians are likely to seek out places associated with film and TV, compared to 40 percent of global tourists. To help Indian movie fans find filming locations, VisitBritain introduced a Bollywood edition of its movie map.

Case study: The Aria Hotel in Last Vegas

The recent film Last Vegas is a great example of cooperation and synergy between Hollywood and a hotelier.

Las Vegas’ Aria Hotel is portayed as the sixth star in Last Vegas, a light-hearted comedy starring Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Robin Williams, Michael Douglas and Mary Steenburgen. The film is a great example of using entertainment to appeal to a new audience and the benefits of a close relationship with the film industry.

The film is about four old friends in their sixties who visit Vegas as a send-off for the last bachelor in the group. Much of the comedic tension in the movie revolves around the old men’s surprise at how much Las Vegas has changed. It isn’t the same Sin City that the Rat Pack once called home.

Four stars on set at the Aria Hotel Resort Source: MGM

Four stars on set at the Aria Hotel Resort Source: MGM

“In terms of reaching out to a different audience, it’s showing the modern side of Las Vegas. It’s not what people expect,” says Carl Cohen, Vice President of Marketing at Aria MGM Resorts. “Aligning the Aria with the movie and the city transfers that perspective. It’s not what you thought, it’s a modern really cool Vegas that a younger adult would like to experience.”

The sleeker, hipper new Vegas and its ubiquitous tech bewilders the characters. For example, none of the older men can figure out how to open the drapes with touchscreens controls afterMorgan Freeman’s character splurges on a luxury suite. One of the funniest scenes takes place at a day pool party at the hotel filled with young people. It shows a much more youthful Vegas than other films such as Ocean’s Eleven.

The cooperation between MGM and CBS Films began when the latter put out feelers to potential hotel partners.

“We see a lot of scripts. We say no more than we say yes. We are not a city who buys into just anything. The project has to be right for your brand and city,” said Jenn Michaels, Senior Vice President of Public Relations at MGM Resorts. “When I read the script, I knew immediately that Aria was the right fit. I couldn’t get on the phone fast enough.”
With the exception of Robert De Niro, who has a hotel of his own in Las Vegas, the stars stayed in the Aria for the two weeks they filmed. Naturally, guests noticed the Hollywood stars in their midst and started publicizing the connection to the Aria long before the official promotion.

“We really respected CBS taking the lead with marketing, but through social media you can’t keep anything secret these days,” Michaels said. “They filmed in some very public places. Our guests saw them and we found people tweeting about it. They marketed it for us.”

The film has only been out for a few weeks, but MGM reports higher-than-normal volume for calls, website traffic and reservations since the release. They also hope that the movie helps raise the profile of this 4-year-old hotel resort. The Aria also hosted an online sweepstakes for a trip to Las Vegas and a private screening of the film with the cast.

Takeaway: For bigger companies, a close relationship with Hollywood can pay off and both parties benefit from the cross-promotion. It also pays for destinations, hotels, and local business to have early knowledge of what movie sets are up for grabs.

Eleven keys to taking advantage of screen tourism

  1. Get started early: A film’s success in inspiring tourism is never certain, but it helps to start planning marketing as early as possible. Some destination marketing organizations and hoteliers even have specialists in Hollywood who read scripts on the lookout for a film that fits the location.“I think the most important thing is that you start thinking about ideas about the spin-off effects before the crew comes in. The trick is to find out as soon as possible if there is filming going on, say a location scout’s arrival, and start planning how to leverage it,” says Stefan Roesch of Film Tourism. “If you wait until opening day, it’s way too late in the process. You want secure copyrights for showing the trailer on the DMO site and for using film stills in tours. Ideally through the regional film commission, you can obtain a copy of the script, get interview statements with crew and cast about hotels and tourist attractions.”The sooner organizations plan marketing materials, activities, and tour packages, the better prepared they can be for a larger-than-expected tourist wave.
  2. Work closely with studios and local film bureaus: A destination’s film bureau is usually more focused on bringing in film crews than tourists, but some cooperate with with the destination marketing arm more than others. If the destination agencies and movie studios have a good relationship, they can test the boundaries and publicize filming locations as it is happens.Destination marketing organizations who know their area very well frequently assist with location scouting. This helps the film industry find the locations that fit their shooting needs and give the organization a chance to promote likely tourist attractions.If the studio allows the use of its intellectual property from the outset, organizations can use a “behind-the scenes” video for destination marketing.
  3. Due diligence: If few see the movie, spin-off marketing isn’t worth much. It helps to have an outside film tourism consultant or a staff member with knowledge of the entertainment industry look at gossip and advance criticism to determine whether the movie or TV series is likely to be a hit or a flop.
  4. Leverage the film or TV show’s life cycle: Successful pop culture has proven to inspire tourism for decades down the line. The tiny town of Cong, Northern Ireland still owes a significant chunk of its local economy to fans of the 1952 John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara film The Quiet Man.Even with sub-classic movies, films provide a series of opportunities to market the destination. If permitted, pre-production name dropping can tie a destination’s name to the stars’ real lives. Hosting the premier could pull in scores of stars and journalists, and helps raise awareness of the location in cases where the scene stands in for another, as was the case with New Zealand for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.Following the opening, award shows, the release to video, release in other countries, and anniversaries all draw up buzz that could insert a destination into the conversation. Emphasizing film locations could also relieve the seasonality of the local travel business.Successful sequels, trilogies and long-run television series have a lasting impact for the destination that hosts the filming. Even years after The Sopranos and Sex and the City ran their course, tour operators still bring fans to the locations where the shows were filmed.
  5. Prominently featuring filming locations in tourism literature: It is cheap and easy to highlight a location’s association with a film without needing to negotiate intellectual property.For example, Visit Scotland’s guidebooks elevated Rosslyn Chapel, which was featured in the film The Da Vinci Code, to a privileged position. Visits to the gothic church nearly doubled in 2006, when it played a prominent role in the movie.Maria Månsson of Lund University found that a combination of the chapel’s historical significance and its cultural relevance made it the historic chapel to see in Scotland.
  6. Maps of filming locations: Location tourists, a movie’s biggest fans, sometimes create film set itineraries themselves, but it’s better to do the legwork for them. A blog post about where a film was created is a start, but a map is even better. VisitBritain publishes a map for its multiple filming locations, as well as a Bollywood edition. An interactive map on a website or smartphone app is another practice that is catching on with destinations.
  7. Connect film tourism to the real culture of the destination: “When people ask me how to measure success, I say it’s increasing visitors. Failure is people thinking that orks are the indigenous population of New Zealand,” says Tourism New Zealand’s Gregg Anderson.Traveling to a destination for the sole purpose of visiting a filming location is mostly limited the die-hard fans of the movie or TV show. For those who do visit film-related locations, it is most likely to be part of a larger itinerary, so it is important to highlight other tourist attractions. For example, Albuquerque’s tour map of Breaking Bad locations also points out nearby visitor destinations such as the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.“The places they filmed aren’t destinations so to speak, and we see people taking pictures in front of laundromats and fast food restaurants,” says Megan Mayo Ryan of the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau. “So we made sure we put visitor destinations on the map as well so fans know that there is a lot more to do on a visit to Albuquerque.”
  8. Co-branding of the movie with hotels and airlines: Tie-ins with airlines, hotels and other providers could also be successful. Air New Zealand fully embraced its role as a prime carrier to Middle Earth with Lord of the Rings-themed jets and safety videos. Hotels that have a connection to entertainment could offer themed suites. For example, the Fairmont Hotel in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. offers a package for fans of Scandal, a TV show that takes place in the city. Guests get a copy of the book that inspired the show and the main character’s favorite popcorn and wine.
  9. Find out where actors stayed and ate: There is a reason why signed actors’ headshots are on restaurant walls. Film studios normally try to keep their projects out of the public eye during filming, but after the camera crews leave, tourists are interested to know which places stars graced with their presence. The hotels where they stayed and restaurants that they visited can also benefit from the association. Actors and directors frequently become unofficial evangelists for the places they visit when they have a positive experience there.
  10. Don’t sweep negative material under the carpet: Tragic, violent and frightening films don’t necessarily hurt the brand. In many cases, dark entertainment makes its viewers more interested in visiting a place.
  11. Monitor pop culture and seize moments to market with, even if they aren’t filmed nearby: Even if the cast and crew never visit, destination marketers can still leverage a film’s popularity for tourism. Themes such as history, love, adventure, self-discovery and spirituality inspire wanderlust and draw tourists outside of movie sets.Use film to raise awareness of alternative itineraries and reach out to new demographics: Film tourism is most helpful for locations that have little name recognition to begin with. For major tourist destinations, it can help appeal to new customers. A film might touch on a particular aspect of a place that isn’t well known, or expose a whole new audience in a different country to the area’s charm.

Further reading