Film tourism offers travellers inspiration for new itineraries
Film tourism is an all-year, all-weather attraction
There are almost as many types of film tourism as there are movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Visitors flock to Universal Studios for themed rides or New Zealand to walk the forests and mountains where The Lord of the Rings was filmed.
In 2016, the Department of Tourism commissioned Charlene Herselman, an academic in the University of Pretoria’s department of historical and heritage studies, to conduct a study on the potential of local film tourism.
The study was part of a research project that involved other institutions and a collection of case studies from the UK, one of the world leaders in film tourism, to create a model that could be used in SA.
"Film tourism has been called by many different names — movie-induced tourism, screen tourism, cinematic tourism, media-based tourism — but they’re all investigating the same things," says Herselman, who is completing her doctorate on the subject.
"It refers to any tourism associated with a film site. It could be somebody visiting where a film was made or is being made. It could be based on a film, like a theme park. It could be associated with celebrities. So, basically, anything that has to do with film or television destinations."
Other travellers might be motivated to take a trip to a place purely for its significance as a film site, as fans of The Vampire Diaries do when they visit the town of Covington, Georgia in the US, which played the part of Mystic Falls.
"Mystic Falls, the town in the series, doesn’t exist but it’s become associated with the filming location," Herselman says. "They’ve even built some of the restaurants mentioned in the series in the actual town.
"There are similar film tourism pilgrimages to sites engrained in our popular culture memory. Take Monty Python — every year there is a festival of re-enactments at Doune Castle in Scotland."
Other types include nostalgic film tourism, celebrity film tourism (think maps to Hollywood homes), events (premieres people will travel to if the location is within reach), international film festivals, film conventions (such as Comic Con, coming to Johannesburg in September). There are also constructed attractions (such as the Game of Thrones exhibition that travels the world), studio tours (the Harry Potter one in London is the city’s most visited attraction), guided tours (The Shire from The Lord of the Rings is the most visited site in New Zealand), theme parks and armchair travel (travel documentaries, gastronomy programmes, reality shows), museum exhibitions and video games based on real destinations.
"In terms of increased cultural value, film acts as a marker, adding additional meaning to an environment or attraction," Herselman says.
"This makes it stand out in a competitive world market. If you have the choice between visiting two similar attractions, are you not going to choose the one you’ve seen in your favourite movie or TV series?"
Current research focuses on defined areas — marketing and destination image; tourism demand and motivation; film tourists’ experience and tourism destination impact — but Herselman says film tourism is not new and comes from a long history of popular culture influencing travel choice.
"People found their inspiration for their travel in books, but it’s evolved with the advent of film and TV, which have become more popular than literature because they are so accessible and have such a wide reach," she says.
It’s a form of constant revenue. Film tourism is an all-year, all-weather type of attraction
"But in recent years we’ve seen a combination of the two. Many films are based on popular books and sometimes books are written after a popular film comes out. This new form of tourism has been called popular culture tourism. It includes both types of travel inspiration."
In the UK, the film industry contributes £6bn to the economy, if spin-off benefits such as tourism are factored in. In India, the contribution is $6.2bn while in SA the value is R5.5bn, which Herselman believes is a conservative estimate.
"The World Trade Organisation recently did a study on film tourism and discovered that 80-million travellers chose their destination mostly based on film and television series," Herselman says.
"That’s impressive. The study also found that for some destinations, the estimated number of visitors doubled over the last five years."
Those numbers show no sign of slowing down at the most popular destinations. The Mutiny on the Bounty increased tourism to Tahiti for decades, as did films such as Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai for their destinations. And several decades after The Sound of Music sang its way into hearts around the world, 70% of the 300,000 people visiting Salzburg every year say their primary reason for visiting Austria is the film.
"It’s a great form of travel inspiration and a travel motivator," Herselman says.
"I think in recent years it has taken over from many different forms of tourism and is becoming one of the main motivating factors because film and television are incredibly popular. It’s also a form of constant revenue. Film tourism is an all-year, all-weather type of attraction," she says.
The fact that many film tourists choose to travel in off-peak seasons counters the negative effect of crowds of tourists. There has been growing conflict from communities such as Venice, where citizens complain that their quality of life is worsened by tourism.
"The drawing away of people from these mass tourism sites has been the idea of individualised, personalised, customised tours — taking people’s interests into account and taking them off the beaten track," Herselman says.
"Often film locations are unknown destinations, drawing masses of tourists from the main sites and taking them to places you want to showcase.
"This creates a geographic spread of benefits, so regions that might not have benefited from tourism can be included in the industry."