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Tourists Keep Coming to Their Favorite TV and Movie Destinations

Jun 24, 2014 8:00 am

Reuters

The Senoia Coffee and Cafe Shop displays the Woodbury Coffee House sign that was hung outside during the filming of the TV show The Walking Dead, in Senoia. Reuters


Josh Hall searched The Woodbury Shoppe for “Walking Dead” merchandise that he didn’t own.

“I think I own about one of everything in this store,” said Hall, 28, of Quincy, Mass., who drove 18 hours to Georgia with his sister, Cassandra Everett, for a six-day, $1,500 vacation centered on the television series — the most-watched drama in cable history.

“Diehard, right? It’s an extreme ‘Walking Dead’ vacation,” he said.

Millions of dollars invested in redeveloping Senoia, and the popularity of the AMC zombie drama, have transformed Senoia — pronounced “See-noy” — a small Southern town about 30 miles south of Atlanta. Film-induced tourism isn’t new, but the travel-industry segment is drawing increased attention around the world.

“It’s a maturing of the industry,” said Kevin Clark, executive director of Los Angeles-based Association of Film Commissioners International, or AFCI. “It’s definitely becoming more recognized, especially in the United States.”

AMC’s “Breaking Bad” series spawned a cottage tourism industry in Albuquerque, N.M. “Twilight” put Forks, Wash., on the map. North Carolina and Georgia started visitor campaigns to cash in on the popularity of “The Hunger Games” franchise.

Each year, about 65,000 people visit the Iowa town where “Field of Dreams” was made in 1989, including an estimated 12,000 last weekend for the movie’s 25th anniversary.

“It allows you to bond with (movies and television shows) in another way,” said Greg Nicotero, a “Walking Dead” executive producer and McCandless native who has visited film locations while vacationing, including Quint’s shack from “Jaws” on Martha’s Vineyard.

AFCI plans to devote its 2015 Cineposium to the topic of film tourism. Pittsburgh plans to pursue hosting the conference.

“We’d be a natural fit,” said Craig Davis, CEO of VisitPittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Tours & More recently partnered with the Pittsburgh Film Office to establish “Lights, Camera, Pittsburgh,” the city’s first official movie and television tour.

People regularly contact the film office about movies made in Pittsburgh. A man from Australia recently emailed about the Evans City farmhouse used in George Romero’s zombie thriller “Night of the Living Dead.” It no longer exists.

“But people still ask about it. People still contact us about ‘Striking Distance,’ ” the 1993 Bruce Willis movie, said Jessica Conner, assistant director of the film office.

Fans also ask about “Flashdance,” “Silence of the Lambs” and other productions, she said.

“After they are done, the PR of having those films out there lasts forever,” Conner said.

Tourists spend about $37 billion a year in Pennsylvania, according to the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

Georgia tourism brings in about $53 billion annually. The state has a website for its film industry, with information for six self-guided tours.

“It has just taken off like crazy,” said Lee Thomas, director of Georgia’s film office.

In 2010, laid-off teacher Jessica Lowery opened a Covington, Ga., tour company devoted to “The Vampire Diaries” television series. Last year, she opened a gift store.

“I never really thought this would be my job and we could be growing like we are,” she said.

Lowery has partnered with the Newton County Chamber of Commerce to run “Hollywood of the South Tours,” which will highlight the more than 60 productions made there — including “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “In the Heat of the Night.”

Tourists in 2012 spent $108 million in the county. Films and television shows accounted for at least three-quarters of that, according to Jenny McDonald, the chamber’s director of tourism and marketing.

“(Film tourism) was happening organically. We’re just trying to build the brand,” McDonald said.

Senoia, where 25 projects have filmed since 1989, rebuilt itself for the industry, said Scott Tigchelaar, president of Raleigh Studios Atlanta, where “The Walking Dead” has shot for five seasons, including Season 3 when Senoia became the fictional town of Woodbury.

“They put this town on the map in terms of international tourism,” said Tigchelaar, whose uncles built the studio in the 1980s. “Forty-five million people have seen this town on TV. You couldn’t afford that kind of advertising.”

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