Film Tourism & Destinations On Air

There is no doubt that film tourism can be a valuable vehicle for destination marketing and even better for new tourism product development as well. Film and TV productions can have very powerful effects on the full travel experience cycle– from inspiration to referral.

Visitors to film destinations are looking for this extra factor, an on location experience which will tell a story about their favorite films and their location, engaging their emotions. New product developments around the films such as location tours, film museums, exhibitions and the theming of existing tourist attractions can provide just that.

To create this experience and add to the direct promotional effects that a film production can bring to destinations, creating sustainable results, planning and a strategic approach to the development of this tourism areas is as important as for the rest. Let’s see how destinations around the world are attracting, promoting, developing and managing film tourism.

Bollywood around the world

With the number of Indians travelling abroad growing 20% year-on-year and ranking among the top five spenders globally, it is  not surprising that national Tourism Boards from around the world have been targeting Bollywood for a while now. As far as the attraction of the film industry is concerned, tourism boards of many countries, like Switzerland, have in the past used Bollywood to showcase the destinations to high-spending Indian travellers.

Bollywood director-producer Vipul Shah, who had shot movies in the UK, said in an economictimes article: “Foreign tourism boards in India are increasingly pitching for locations to producers and directors in India offering incentives ranging from tax rebate, free stays, visa facilitation, and in certain cases, they even bear the cost of production.” Many recent Bollywood blockbusters have been shot in foreign locales: Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milege Dobara showed Spain extensively. Aditya Chopra’s EK Tha Tiger, starring Salman Khan, has been filmed in five different countries, including Ireland and South Africa, while Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Don has been shot in Germany.

Early this year, Spain Tourism received 600,000 enquiries from India after the release of Zindagi Naa Milegi Dobara. One of the film’s sequences was shot at the famous Tomatino festival, which prompted travellers from India to visit Spain. The Spain Tourism Board spent about half a million on marketing campaigns using Zindagi clips. According to the Board, the number of visas issued to Indians, after the movie, went up 50-60%. Till June 2011 (before the movie was released in July), 46,000 Indians had visited Spain. “That number has multiplied after ZNMD,” said Madhu Salyankar, marketing head of Spain Tourism Board. “We offer facilitation with visas, discounts for hotel stays and travel, VAT refund of about 18% as well as faster approvals and other such sops,” he added.

Typically, most countries offer tax sops in the form of VAT refund ranging from 10-20%, depending on the location and the amount of budget spent on the location.

On the other hand, the Indian government is actively considering tax reimbursement on film shooting expenditure in the country to woo prominent filmmakers. Streamlining of visa procedures, speedy customs clearance for import of filming equipment, ensuring easy accessibility to locations and eliminating obstacles and offering financial incentives to producers are some of the proposals being finalised by the ministry to attract filmmakers. The ministry also proposes to ensure a single window clearance for licences and no-objection certificates for film makers for shooting at locations including security arrangements.

New Zealand and Tolkien Tourism

New Zealand is certainly one of the most obvious examples of how big an impact the film industry can have on a  destination’s tourism. ‘Tolkien Tourism’ is undeniably a big business in New Zealand. The annual tourist influx rose from 1.7 million in 2000 to 2.4 million in 2006 – a 40% surge (huffingtonpost). The NZ government is certainly very much aware of the benefits and recognizes the opportunity to trigger the imagination of millions of film goers worldwide, establishing a valuable image of New Zealand through the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the new Hobbit movies.

After the Lord of the Rings won an Oscar, Tourism NZ  launched a marketing campaign promoting NZ as “Best Supporting Country”.

Serious steps are taken to make sure that there are no missed opportunities. When,  in October 2010, the actor’s strike threatened to derail filming in New Zealand, the government made sure the Hobbit would remain in NZ by paying a large amount of money to the production company as well as agreeing to contribute to the marketing of the two films. But the officials knew they were up for a great deal. In exchange the film remains in New Zealand, and every DVD and download of The Hobbit will feature a Jackson-directed video promoting New Zealand as a tourist and filmmaking destination.

Apart from a long term marketing strategy and campaigns, additional initiatives towards product development include taking advantage of the film sets as photo ops for Tolkien tourists, a variety of specialized tours around the film’s locations and possibly a themed museum showcasing all the props used in the movies, amongst many others.

Virginia and the power of Disney

With Disney planning to spend $35 million to market Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln’” —filmed entirely in Virginia —  the state’s tourism agency is gearing up for opportunities to give Virginia worldwide exposure as a tourism destination.

Virginia, a state known for its Civil War history, already has a list of events planned this year commemorating the 150th anniversary of many of the war’s major battles and campaigns. The première of a legendary director’s movie on one of the era’s key figures is more than icing on the cake; it’s every tourism director’s dream.

Diane Béchamps, the agency’s vice president of marketing, told Virginia Business that Disney plans to spend $35 million to market “Lincoln.”  Virginia signed a contract with Dreamworks Studio, Spielberg’s film company, that includes several incentives for marketing, she added, including a premiere in Richmond, a trailer from the movie and footage from the filming that the agency will be able to use in its own marketing.  “The stars are lining up just right for us,” Bechamps said.

Among the initiatives shared during the luncheon will be marketing that invites tourists to follow in the footsteps of Lincoln in places he visited while in Virginia in 1864 and 1865.  There also will be campaigns to follow the footsteps of Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis — the actor who portrays Lincoln in the movie — while they filmed in Richmond. “We will have the power of Disney’s marketing behind us. We will be leveraging that,” said Rita McClenny, Virginia’s film commissioner.

Bangkok and a Hangover effect

Proper planning is necessary to avoid unfortunate situations as the one Tourism Authority of Thailand officials had to deal with, after negative destination images were projected through the Hangover 2 movie, losing initial enthusiasm.

Following the movie’s release, thousands of movie viewers were immediately left with a not so appealing image of Thailand and Bangkok, posting Twits like: “Hangover 2 was hilarious. Note to self: never go to Bangkok…” or “Staying away from Bangkok Thailand Lol for many reasons thanks Hangover 2”. Perhaps the worst hit was actually delivered by the actual actors in the movie, informing the whole world about their not so positive Thailand experience: “Severe food poisoning the first week…Let’s just say my body exploded.” (Ed Helms), or Justin Bartha admitting that  going there was one of his biggest regrets, and issuing a warning for anyone considering following in his footsteps.

While Tourism Authority of Thailand officials, were not certain about the effects, noting that the image painted was not inaccurate, but if they could have a say in it they would choose to portray different images of the country, the tourism industry can certainly take advantage of the publicity, as some tour groups have been offering “Hangover II tour” packages, including a boat trip along the Chao Phraya River as well as the temple and sky bar featured in the film, rounded off with a visit to a strip club.


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