It seems pretty obvious: a popular movie can increase tourism to the film’s location.
So while we weren’t surprised to find data proving this, we were impressed just by how much it can increase. When we totaled up all the publicly available data, we found that on average, a popular movie increases tourism to the featured location by 31%.
We ran an analysis on 100 popular films with locations where people could travel to see the film’s location (think Lord of the Rings, less Interstellar), and pulled data on tourism trends. Where data was publicly available, we found some shocking numbers suggesting that a popular film can increase tourism to a prominent location in the movie anywhere between 25-300%. There is also research that suggests that this “burst” tourism is a great way to revitalize a country’s local economy over several years, as the tourism remains fairly consistent between three and four years.
How much do specific movies affect tourism?
Here are some of the more interesting examples we found:
- Harry Potter – 50% increase in tourism to all filming locations (in some cities/towns as much as 200%)
- Frozen – 37% increase in tourism to Norway
- The Beach – 22% increase to Thailand
- Braveheart – 300% increase in tourism to Wallace Monument, Scotland
- Mission Impossible 2 – 200% increase to Sydney National Park
- Troy – 73% increase to Canakkale, Turkey
Interestingly, about 10% of people who travel to a new location, replied to a survey that they picked their location based off of a movie’s setting.
The one thing that was hard to report was whether or not a movie that takes place at an already popular destination, if there’s a noticeable increase. For example, Gladiator is said to have inspired people to visit Rome, and The Hangover inspired a Vegas travel surge, already two of the most commonly visited cities in the world. Did the movies increase the overall tourism metric at all? Or was it just a blip on the map. Unfortunately there isn’t much data publicly available to prove this one way or the other.
Several Vegas casinos, though, which allow film crews to use their hotels as filming locations, commonly see specific spikes in reservations following a popular film or TV show’s release.
How sustainable is movie tourism?
Academic research points out that “movie induced tourism” can be great for local economies, and not only in the short term. As the research by Riley, Baker, and Van Doren suggests, this tourism spike can last between three and four years for most popular films.
It also turns out that having a film feature a city or tourist destination can be one of the most effective methods of marketing to potential tourists. A state, city, or town running advertising encouraging tourism, while proven to drive up some amount of new visitations, barely touches the viral effect of a movie profiling a location in a unique way.
With this context, it makes sense why governments offer incentives for filmmakers to create a movie set in their country (here’s a list of the best countries to shoot a film based on incentives, for the curious), as not only does it bring jobs, it also brings the tourism in lasting form.
Of course it can have unintentional effects, just ask Forks, WA. The city where Twilight took place saw nearly 300,000 new visitors throughout the book and movie saga’s run. Keep in mind this is a town that at the time of the book’s release had a population of 3,500. While some of the locals took kindly to the influx of new visitors, many have complained. Also of note, Stephanie Meyers, Twilight’s author, quite literally googled “rainy locations” to find a setting for her book, there’s just no way to predict such free publicity, which has reshaped a quiet little town.