The PSYchology of holidays

<em>Illustration: michaelmucci.com</em>
Illustration: michaelmucci.com 

We see it on the big screen and we want to go. Movies and other forms of media are driving our destination choices like never before.

Who'd ever heard of Gangnam before those crazy dance moves hit our screens? As a suburb of Seoul, it had a pretty low profile with Australian travellers.

But along comes the pop singer PSY with his unique style of moves and suddenly Gangnam and Korea are in hot demand.

Likewise Asheville, North Carolina, a city that featured in very few travellers' itineraries until The Hunger Games was released in cinemas in 2012.

The city has had record numbers of people in its visitor centres since the release of the movie, as well as a jump in website traffic.

For Highclere Castle, the filming location for the hit television series Downton Abbey, demand has been such that group tour tickets have sold out for 2013. All admission tickets for Easter have been snapped up, as have those for the British bank holiday weekend in May.

Movies, television programs and other forms of media can have a big impact on our travel choices, by showcasing destinations at their scenic or creative best. From the New York lifestyle of Seinfeld and friends to the alluring images of Bali, Italy and India in Eat Pray Love, we are influenced in ways that a tourist board could never hope to achieve.

General manager of travel.com.au Renee Welsh says popular movies and television shows plant the seed that you "must see this place for yourself".

"Movies are a powerful way to showcase the beauty of a destination," she says. "Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are both great examples of movies that drew us into the colour and magic of India. I've been fascinated by India ever since."

Marketing manager of the Korea Tourism Organisation Jennifer Doherty says consumer inquiries and interest at travel expos show that Gangnam Style has had a huge impact for Korea. "There's been a lot of interest particularly in Gangnam, the wealthy suburb in Seoul that is the title of his song," Doherty says.

"He's certainly shown the fun side of Koreans and raised the profile of Korea generally around the world." It is difficult to measure the impact of movies and other media in terms of visitor numbers, but there is plenty of evidence of increased interest and inquiries.

Hotels.com compared search figures for key movie destinations and found inquiries for Asheville had jumped 144 per cent on the previous year, and there had been a 45 per cent increase in searches for Wellington, New Zealand, since the release of The Hobbit.

Searches for Istanbul, which featured heavily in the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, were up 131 per cent, and searches for Hawaii, which was showcased in The Descendants, were up 149 per cent.

A British film tourism consultant, Martin Evans, of ScreenTourism.com, says media coverage can propel a destination into the tourism premiership almost overnight.

"The movie franchises of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter have proved as important to their countries' respective tourist boards [New Zealand and Britain] as they have to the production companies that made them," he says. Despite the fact that both series are fantasy stories and very few actual places are mentioned, many of the filming locations have boomed in popularity.

Alnwick Castle, which was used for Hogwarts exteriors in Harry Potter, more than doubled its visitor numbers when the first movie was released, and media value from The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been estimated in the tens of millions of dollars.

Evans says film tourism has moved to a new level since the 1980s, when All Creatures Great and Small was bringing attention to Yorkshire and Braveheart was driving interest in Scotland.

With satellite and digital television combining with movie streaming over the internet, we are being exposed to film locations like never before.

Long-running shows are particularly lucrative; the economic value of the television show Heartbeat is estimated at more than £9 million ($13.3 million) a year for North Yorkshire.

Another example of long-lasting impact is the American teen series Dawson's Creek, which had its final season in 2003 but is still drawing tourists to North Carolina.

There are guided and self-guided tours of filming locations and you can still walk into a souvenir shop and buy a Dawson's Creek T-shirt to remember your trip.

 

Smaller fry

It's not only box-office hits that grab our attention.

The BIG4 Bellarine Holiday Park in southern Victoria says it received a surge in bookings after featuring in Channel Ten television program Undercover Boss.

"The impact was instant and the phones rang as the show rolled out," says the owner of the park, Sophie Bone.

Bone says that by collecting information from guests on why they chose the park, she has been able to attribute 109 bookings, worth more than $54,000, to exposure from the show.

jane@janeefraser.com.au

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