Screen Tourism: What Destination Brands Can Gain From Our Favorite Films and Shows

The key is to boost tourism safely, without damaging local ecosystems

Screen tourism is a powerful tool for attracting visitors to destinations. The success of Harry Potter in the U.K. and The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand demonstrate the significant impact that film and television productions can have on tourism. In today's competitive global market, leveraging screen tourism helps destinations stand out, showcase their unique qualities and gain a competitive edge.

However, it's no slam-dunk. As parts of the world grapple with excess tourism, some destinations are seeing the damage that a sudden or continuous influx of tourists can wreak on communities and the environment. There are pitfalls to avoid.

The benefits of a global audience

Across the globe, the U.K. and Ireland have emerged as highly desirable screen tourism destinations due to the international success of beloved franchises. For example, Game of Thrones played a significant role in attracting one in every six out-of-state visitors to Northern Ireland in 2018, contributing to 350,000 visitors and over $60 million for the local economy.

A recent survey conducted by U.S.-based imaging brand PhotoAid revealed that Hawaii is regarded as the most desirable film tourism destination in the U.S., thanks to the Jurassic Park franchise. The economic boost resulting from films like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom provided a $31 million boost to Hawaii's economy and generated $7 million in wages for more than 1,200 workers, according to Budget Travel.

Seeing a place on screen can be an easy win for a destination marketing campaign, as the release of a film or TV show set in the region offers a springboard for conversation. For lesser-known destinations in particular, it offers a global spotlight they might otherwise never experience.

The downsides

While screen tourism can undoubtedly bring exposure and benefits, it can also lead to challenges such as tourism burnout. Instances like the closure of the Thai beach featured in the film The Beach because of the impact on the local ecosystem, including coral reefs, or the "Disneyification" of the Mamma Mia location in Greece, demonstrate the need for careful management.

While at first the small Greek island of Skopelos was pleased to be in the spotlight, it quickly became overrun with tourists looking for the Mamma Mia experience, which didn't actually reflect daily life on the island. Even France recently launched a campaign to pull tourists away from its most famous destinations, citing Netflix's Emily in Paris and Lupin—which has drawn crowds to the cliffs of Étretat in Normandy—as causing an overload in visitors.

Its impact can also be incredibly localized—take the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland or the platform of King's Cross Station, both micro destinations featured in Harry Potter, clogged by visitors these days. However, when larger areas are promoted, such as New Zealand or Northern Ireland, the impact is more dissipated and manageable.

But, if done carefully, screen tourism has the potential to attract year-round visitors who remain interested in regions due to their on-screen association.

Gritty reality or rose-tinted glasses?

Authenticity plays a crucial role in leveraging screen tourism effectively. A good film will reflect the true essence of a place, as well as using that positive light, and destination brands should capitalize on that. If a film or TV show is hero-ing a location, creators should incorporate the local character, spirit and unique attributes, providing an authentic representation. Genres like Nordic Noir, for example, are great at captivating viewers without a rose-tinted lens, portraying a place's true nature.

A recent success story in this respect is Rye Lane. Raine Allen-Miller, who had a personal connection to Peckham in South London, moved the planned location of the film from Camden to Peckham. The film serves as a reflection of Peckham's diversity, vibrancy, and unique potential—and offers an opportunity to reshape the perception of the area beyond its association with Only Fools and Horses.

Destination campaigns that leverage screen tourism should make sure what they share is authentic and highlight parts of the area not seen on screen.

Success in partnerships

Ensuring local buy-in is crucial to the success of any campaign, as is developing partnerships with local enterprises. Film tour companies, for instance, can collaborate with local restaurants and accommodation providers to offer inclusive trips, fostering a sense of community and support for local businesses.

Working closely with production companies is crucial to develop a genuine partnership that benefits both parties. Tourism Ireland's collaboration with Game of Thrones serves as a prime example. Other areas are known for appearing in Game of Thrones—Croatia and Malta for example—but it's Northern Ireland that has that official connection, because Tourism Ireland worked hard to make a partnership deal. They've also added really unique and creative ideas to draw in the superfans too.

Screen tourism presents both opportunities and challenges for destination brands. While the impact may be fleeting in some cases due to the abundance of film and television content available today, certain productions have the potential for enduring influence. By carefully leveraging screen tourism, destinations can generate global exposure, attract visitors year-round and foster partnerships that benefit local businesses and communities.

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