Popular films and television shows have been influencing the travel industry for decades, going back as far as the 1940s and 50s with city-centric films like Roman Holiday and Casablanca. Destinations that were previously under the radar to Western tourists—Like Morocco or India—were suddenly at the top of every mover-goer’s dream travel bucket list, thanks in part to films that painted these locales as romantic, exotic and deliciously perilous.
It wasn’t until the release of the first Lord of the Rings movie in 2001, however, that government tourism agencies began to realize just how lucrative film-induced tourism could be for their country’s GDP. Set exclusively in New Zealand, Lord of the Rings highlighted the desolate and other-worldly beauty of the country’s glassy lakes and dramatic volcanoes. Seemingly over night, the remote island nation whose population barely exceeded that of Alabama, was swarming with tourists looking to visit the real-life versions of The Shire and Mt. Doom. Thanks to the film’s worldwide appeal and spectacular cinematography, The New Zealand tourism department saw a 50 percent visitor increase from the previous year—a tourism spike the likes of which the nation had never seen before.
Today, films and TV series have been found to increase local tourism by anywhere between 25 and 300 percent, with the average gain hovering around 31. Not bad, especially when, according to at least one study, the spike in visitation to a popular filming location can hold steady for an average of three to four years after the movie’s release. According to sources cited on CNN, about five percent of tourists attribute a television show or movie as the reason they chose to travel to New Zealand, Italy and Sweden. On a whole, approximately 10 percent of people surveyed said a movie or TV show setting had at one point influenced their travel destination choices.
The following are 20 countries, cities and historical monuments that—for better or for worse—have seen record-breaking spikes in tourism thanks to a popular film or television series.
20 (Lord of the Rings) - New Zealand - Bring your Elvish dictionary
When the first Lord of the Rings film premiered in 2001, millions of movie-goers were introduced to what was perhaps the film’s biggest breakout star: the staggering volcanoes, sweeping forests and turquoise-colored lakes and rivers of New Zealand. Prior to the film’s release, New Zealand had remained an under-the-radar vacation destination for most Americans. After the film’s release, however, New Zealand was now “Middle Earth” and suddenly the sparsely populated country was on every traveler’s “must visit” list. As a result, New Zealand saw a 50 percent bump in tourism; or in other words, visitor numbers had doubled. Since then, Hobbiton alone has received approximately 266,000 visitors, according to Tourism New Zealand.
19 (Game of Thrones) - Croatia, Iceland and Northern Ireland - Winter (tourism) is coming
Prior to the unleashing of everyone’s favorite dragon-themed fantasy series Game of Thrones, Iceland received approximately 566,00 annual visitors. After the show premiered on HBO, annual visitor numbers to Iceland jumped to over one million. According to estimates made by TripAdvisor, the show has lead to an increased interest in the Nordic island country by 120 percent.
Croatia and Ireland have also seen boosts in tourism numbers thanks to the 38-Emmy Award-winning show. Tourism in Croatia, the filming location for the fictional city of “Kings Landing,” has seen a 10 percent visitor increase and Northern Ireland, the setting for “Winterfell,” estimates the series has generated $110 million for the country’s economy.
18 (Harry Potter) - Alnwick Castle, England - Flying lessons not included
Visit Alnwick Castle in the English county of Northumberland and you’re likely to spot several cape-wearing young people wielding broomsticks. Though this 922-year-old castle has been a popular tourist attraction for history buffs for decades, it wasn’t until a boy with a lightning bolt tattoo waved a wand here in 2001 that this historical monument earned an enthusiastic new fanbase. Alnwich Castle was used as a setting for the wizarding school Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films, resulting in a 230 percent increase in visitors to the castle since 2011. The former estate of the Duke of Northumberland now reportedly receives over 700,00 visits a year, contributing to the estimated $189 million economic impact that “screen tourism” brings to the United Kingdom every year.
17 (Borat) - Kazakstan - Unexpected yet 'very naiicee!'
Prior to the 2006 release of comedian Sasha Baron Cohen’s film Borat, few Westerners would have been able to find the former soviet country of Kazakhstan on a map (for the record, it neighbors China and Russia). Though the comedic mockumentary poked fun at the main character’s home country, suggesting it was an impoverished, backwards and even antisemitic country, it did something that previous Kazakhstan tourism advertising campaigns had not: It sparked curiosity.
Suddenly hordes of North American and British moviegoers were Googling “Where is Kazakhstan?” and “What is Kazakhstan really like?” and tourism authorities began to take note.
Though the Kazakhstan government had previously banned the film and threatened to sue Cohen for slander, the Kazakhstan foreign minister later thanked the comedian, stating visa applications had increased tenfold after the film’s release.
16 (The Beach) - Koh Phi Phi Leh, Thailand - A beach paradise no more
Once upon a time, Maya Bay on the coastline of the small island of Koh Phi Phi Leh may have been the ideallic and tranquil surf and snorkel haven depicted in Alex Garland’s bestselling adventure novel, The Beach. Thanks to the 2000 Leonardo Dicaprio film adaptation, however, the beach has become insanely and uncomfortably crowded. So crowded, in fact, that Thai authorities have been forced to temporarily close access to the secluded cove in order to help conservation and preservation efforts.
Since the movie’s release, the shore has seen 4,000 to 5,000 visitors each day, which has damaged an estimated 77% of Maya Bay’s coral.
The news isn’t all bad, however. Despite the negative effects of over-tourism, Thailand as a whole has greatly profited from the popularity of the book and movie. The Beach is thought to have lead to a 22 percent increase in tourism country wide.
15 (Frozen) - Norway - A rebranding that won't 'let it go'
Although the Disney animated musical Frozen was set in the mythical kingdom of Arendelle, that hasn’t stopped sparkly blue-dress wearing little girls and their parents from booking family vacations to icy and snow-covered Norway, the country in which Arendelle is loosely based. S
ince the movie’s release in 2013, tourism to Norway has increased by 37 percent. The 500-year-old castle Akershus Fortress in Oslo, St. Olaf’s Church in Balestrand and the Polar Park are just three Norway attractions that have seen an increase in visitors since Frozen’s premiere. Disney has also capitalized on this travel trend with a Frozen-themed cruise that sails along Norway’s southeastern coast.
14 (Twilight) - Forks, Washington, USA - Not exactly love at first sight
Sometimes being thrust into the Silver Screen spotlight isn’t always a positive, as was the case for the city of Forks, Washington - the real-world setting for the vampire YA romance saga Twilight. The sleepy town of Forks was unprepared for the sudden influx of 300,000 new visitors it saw after the book and movie series launched its town onto the radar of every romance novel-reader. With a population of just 3,500, townsfolk were at a loss as to how to accommodate the influx of “Twihards” who swarmed the village looking to explore the school hallways and forests where fictional Bella and her brood of vampire and werewolf admires had wandered. After the book hit stands in 2005, Fork’s tourism industry saw a reported 1000 percent increase and hotels quickly sold out, seemingly overnight.
Visitors quickly faced a dilemma, however, as none of the locations featured in the film’s version of Forks could be found in its real-world counterpart. As it turns out, the movie wasn’t shot in Forks, it wasn’t even shot in Washington, but rather neighboring Oregon and Canada.
What’s more, the book’s author had never stepped foot into the town prior to choosing it as her books' setting. The entire identity of Forks had been forever altered because a writer in Arizona Google-searched "rainy locations."
The town has since recovered from the unexpected fame. The Forks Chamber of Commerce now hands out Twilight Points of Interest maps and every year in September, near Bella’s birthday, the town plays host to a Twilight-themed festival.
13 (Pride and Prejudice) - Lyme Park, England - Love is in the air
When the BBC series Pride and Prejudice first premiered on TV in 1995, audiences around the world were smitten by the charming love story of William Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet and by the film’s majestic filming location: Lyme Park, England.
The movie, based on the novel by Jane Austen and starring Colin Firth, lead to a 150 percent tourism boost for the 1,400 acre estate. VisitBritain.com credits the series' famous "lake scene", where a swoon-worthy Mr. Darcy startles Elizabeth at Pemberley's lake, for making Lyme Park "one of television's most recognizable backdrops."
12 (Mission Impossible II) - Sydney, Australia - It's 'mission accomplished' for tourism in Sydney
Two years before the famous movie line “42 Wallaby Way, Sydney” sent tourists scouring the streets of Australia’s capital in search of a clown fish named Nemo, Sydney was catapulted into the spotlight thanks to the John Woo Hollywood hit, Mission Impossible II. The 2000 film, which starred Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton, featured a number of iconic Sydney landmarks, including the Opera House, Harbor Bridge and Bare Island. The movie is estimated to have increased tourism in Sydney by 200 percent.
11 (Breaking Bad) - Albuquerque, New Mexico - 'Breaking' state tourism records
Though tourism officials cannot pinpoint the precise economic impact of Breaking Bad on Albuquerque’s tourism, they have stated that since 2011, the number of visitors traveling to New Mexico for “cultural activities” and staying overnight has been on the rise. Though the show has been off the air since 2013, tour companies report that their Breaking Bad sightseeing tours continue to sell out every day. Entrepreneurs have capitalized on the show, selling a rock candy version of Walter White's concoction, “Bathing Bad” bath salts and tours in RVs modeled after the one used as Walt and Jesse’s lab on the show.
Overall, the state of New Mexico has seen a three percent year growth since the Emmy and Golden Globe-award winning show debuted.
10 (The Sound of Music) - Salzburg, Austria - Mozart, who?
The hills are alive with the sound of…tourists. Every year, approximately 300,000 Sound of Music movie fans yodel their way through the cobbled streets and fabled gardens of Salzburg, Austria. Though Salzburg is also known as the birthplace of Mozart, and markets itself as such with an annual Mozart classical musical festival, it would appear that an 18th-century musical prodigy and genius composer has nothing on the Von Trapp kids.
One in every three Japanese people have seen the Sound of Music and 75% of the Americans who visit Salzburg credit the movie as their number one motivation for doing so. The city’s Sound of Music shuttles an average of 40,000 tourists to several of the movie’s filming locations, including the Mirabell Gardens, Villa Trapp and the "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" gazebo.
9 (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) - Skellig Michael, Ireland - Bird sanctuary becomes lost planet
The journey to the remote island Skellig Michael isn’t an easy one. Though visitors won’t need to secure a ride on the Millenium Falcon to get there, the journey does require a plane ride to Northern Ireland, a ferry ride and a reservation (the island only permits 180 visitors per day). Despite the arduous journey, however, the 54-acre island that was once home to a Gaelic Christian monastery, welcomed 16,755 new visitors last year—though “welcome” may not be the best way to describe it.
The large number of visitors has conservationists in the area worried. In addition to being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the island is also a protected bird sanctuary. How will the island cope if thousands of light-saber waving Star Wars fans continue to to make the pilgrimage to the island’s foggy shores? The island was made famous when the Star Wars: The Force Awakens production team chose it as the stand-in for Ahch-To, Luke Skywalker’s secret residence. The island was also featured heavily in The Last Jedi, the latest sequel in the Star Wars franchise.
8 (Deliverance) - Chattooga River, Georgia - A spooky film delivers tourism
In the 1972 film Deliverance, four urbanites embark on a river rafting trip down the Chattooga River in Rabun County, Georgia. It’s in the Georgia wilderness that the tourists are kidnapped and horrifically assaulted by hostile locals before nearly drowning in turbulent river rapids. A far cry from a winning endorsement of Rabun County, and yet, this horror-thriller was responsible for the creation of the county’s booming, $20 million rafting industry.
Prior to the movie’s release, visitors to the county maxed out in the hundreds. After the movie’s release, however, that number was in the tens of thousands. Tourists not only showed up in droves to raft the rapids, but they also stayed to build million-dollar vacation homes along the county’s lakes. Deliverance was such a success that Jimmy Carter, who was governor of Georgia at the time, created a film commission in Georgia in order to attract future productions.
Today, the state is one of the top film locations in the US and tourism remains Rubun County’s biggest revenue driver. The Rabun County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau reports that the county receives more than a quarter million visitors.
7 (Robin Hood) - Sherwood Forest, UK - Russell Crowe is good for business
Though the story of Robin Hood has undergone numerous retellings on TV, stage and film, it wasn’t until Russell Crowe took the helm in 2010 that travelers really took notice in large numbers.
Dubbed the “Russell Crowe Effect,” locations highlighted in the film began to see a bump in tourism numbers, with Nottingham Castle experiencing a 5.5 percent yearly visitor increase and tourism in Sherwood Forest rising by seven percent annually.
Experience Nottinghamshire estimated that one out of every five visitors in Nottingham were there as a direct result of the film.
6 (Eat, Pray, Love) - Bali - Eat, Pray and Travel like Julia Roberts
The wildly successful 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love skyrocketed author Elizabeth Gilbert’s career, launched a new genre of travelogue chick lit and inspired a generation of women to trade in their unfulfilling careers and troubled love lives for the joyful self discovery of the open road.
The book and 2009 Julia Roberts movie also helped to boost tourism in several of the featured locations, including the film’s most photogenic setting - Bali. The town of Ubud, in particular, saw an increase in enlightenment-seeking travelers after it was featured in the film.
Bali as a whole drew 2.5 million visitors in the year after the film was released, which was an increase of 35,000 travelers from the year prior.
5 (Wild) - Pacific Crest Trail - If Reese Witherspoon can hike it, anyone can
Although the memoir Wild, a story about a 26-year-old who finds healing and strength while hiking 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, remained on the New York Times bestseller list for over two years, it wasn’t until the movie was released that inquiries about the trail really began to pour in. This is according to an information specialist for the Pacific Crest Trail who claimed that after the film’s release, “our website traffic went up 300 percent.”
4 (Braveheart) - Scotland - Not for the faint of heart
Another 1995 hit was Braveheart, which catapulted both its lead actor—Mel Gibson—and its lead to location—Scotland—to new international recognition and adoration.
Braveheart may have won five Academy Awards and netted $75.6 million at the Box Office, but it was Scotland’s rolling green hills, fascinating history and intriguing accents that made this British Isle the true benefactor of the film’s success. A year after the film hit theaters, tourism to Scotland increased by 300 percent.
3 (Troy) - Canakkale, Turkey - The gift(horse) that keeps giving
20 miles north of the ancient site of Troy, in the Turkish town of Canakkale, sits a relic from history—film history, that is. Weighing 12 tonnes and made from fiberglass is a Hollywood replica of the mythological "Trojan Horse," which was created for the 2004 Brad Pitt film Troy. As explained in The Guardian, the set piece was gifted to Canakkale by Warner Brothers Studios as a symbolic consolation prize.
Not a single second of film was shot in Turkey (producers opted to make the 200 million dollar film in Malta and Mexico instead). Nonetheless, tourism in Turkey skyrocketed after the film's release, renewing an interest in Troy and Turkey's other classical ruins. As a result, tourism in Turkey rose by an estimated 73 percent.
2 (Notting Hill) - Kenwood House, England - Hugh Grant, is that you?
Other famous locations in the neighborhood of Notting Hill appear in the film, including Portobello Road Market and The Travel Bookshop. Ironically, partly due to the success of the film, rents in the Notting Hill neighborhood increased to the point where the Travel Bookshop could no longer afford to stay open. In 2011, it closed but has since reopened under a new name.
1 (Field of Dreams) - Dyersville, Iowa - If you build it, they will come
“If you build it, they will come” was the famous line cemented in pop culture history by the 1989 heart-warmer Field of Dreams. As it turned out, “they” wasn’t just a team of ghostly baseball legends, but also thousands of movie fans from around the world. The baseball field that was constructed and used for the filming of the movie still exists in Dyersville, Iowa, and continues to draw visitors today.
In 1991 alone, an astounding 35,000 people visited the field and farmhouse, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state. In the first three years after the film’s debut, a reported 90,000 tourists visited the diamond as well as a number of other filming locations. The majority of the movie was shot in neighboring Dubuque—the oldest city in Iowa.
References: tourismtattler, thejournal, latimes.com, travel.cnn, championtraveler, afci.org