The PR Phenomenon of Film Tourism

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Posted At: April 15, 2013 4:30 P.M.
by Casey B. Rogers and Lindsey Green

The motion picture and film sector has become a multi-billion-dollar industry since its beginning in the United States and other countries around the world. Because cinema reaches so many people, from a wide array of demographics, it is no wonder that it is becoming increasingly popular from a PR perspective.

The film industry has become a common stage for marketing products and an incredible technique for creating revenue for various tourism destinations both locally and nationally. This particular form of publicity and promotion has become known as film-induced tourism.

According to a Journal of Travel Research article by Simon Hudson and J.R. Ritchie, “Film tourism is defined as tourist visits to a destination or attraction as a result of the destination’s being featured on television, video, or the cinema screen.”

The article also elaborates on the many benefits and marketing opportunities derived from film tourism. This form of tourism has acted as a springboard for marketing campaigns and public relations approaches.

Fueled by the growth in the entertainment industry and by the increasing popularity of international travel, the opportunities this industry can provide are phenomenal – if only taken advantage of and capitalized upon. Opportunities abound before, during and even after film production.

Marketing production destinations

Public relations is part of every step in the film tourism process, even from the very beginning stages of marketing a destination to potential film producers. Because of the growing number of success stories, many law makers have also stepped in to aid in attracting films to their particular locations.

For example, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley recently signed a bill that will allow the state of Alabama to compete more effectively for film productions.

HB243 will double the current value of allowed incentives for filming projects within the state by 2015. According to the Alabama Film Office, “In 2011 alone, production companies spent approximately $22.5 million in Alabama and more than $5.6 million was reimbursed to these companies through the incentives.”

A recent al.com article  stated that, “Filming activity for movies, television shows and other projects grew in Alabama last year, with production companies spending $33.5 million in the state.” This spending represents 31 projects from a variety of industries.

The Alabama Film Office recommends policies and legislation, as well as implements and participates in programs and projects to benefit the state’s film tourism. The office also acts as an advocate to film producers to choose the state as a filming destination.

Alabama Film Office Manager Kathy Faulk said, “We are very excited to see the release of two major feature films this month, ’42’ which filmed at historic Rickwood Field in Birmingham and ‘Space Warriors’ which filmed at Space Camp in Huntsville.”

Faulk also stated, “We sometimes take for granted the beauty of our state. I am constantly reminded when showing photos of our gorgeous beaches to someone for the first time, or our lakes and rivers, or the beautiful lush mountains in North Alabama, how very fortunate we are.”

“Locations such as the Space and Rocket Center, which has had two major movies in the last year, Barber Motorsports Park and Talladega Speedway sell themselves in what they offer as a destination location,” she added.

Positive production impact

Publicity for an area starts as soon as the film cast and crew get to town. Wilmington, N.C., has embraced its role as “Hollywood East” with several TV shows and features filming in the area recently. Connie Nelson, the communications/public relations director for the Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau, noted that the stars simply being in town is easy publicity for the area and its businesses.

“Another way the film industry impacts tourism is that when visiting productions are here, the visiting crew and actors stay in our hotels, dine in our restaurants, shop in our stores and visit attractions. This not only creates economic impact for our destination but it also creates the opportunity to promote where the stars dine, shop and stay,” said Nelson.

For example, “’Big Fish’ back in 2003 had a huge impact on Wetumpka, Ala.; ‘42’ recently shot five days in Birmingham, Ala., and they rented 200 rooms for a month; CMT’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ shot in Fairhope, Ala., was felt by the entire community, as the crew ate in its restaurants and stayed in local hotels,” said Faulk. “These are personal dollars spent by the crew and not easily accounted for, but definitely felt in a community.”

Alabama native Jennie Katz Hamilton, who was part of the production of “Big Fish,” said she believes “filming in Alabama is not only economically beneficial for the state, [but] it also acts as a positive morale boost for citizens. It gives them something to be excited about and a way to showcase a place they love.”

In another example, India’s Ministry of Tourism has also recently created a marketing campaign called “Land of Pi,” inspired by Ang Lee’s 2012 film “Life of Pi.” Leading hotels, businesses and officials have joined forces in the marketing campaign in hopes of capitalizing on the film’s popularity.

Harnessing production results

Global awareness also dramatically increased throughout and after the production of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Tourism awareness in New Zealand fueled by the trilogy’s overwhelming global popularity paved the way for destination marketers to harness the power of this phenomenon.

A CNN article coined Hollywood as being one of the world’s best travel agents, stating that, “With as much as 5 percent of tourism inspired by movies, more countries are aggressively auditioning for Hollywood’s attention.”

Stefan Roesch, Ph.D., is a film tourism consultant and current deputy managing director of CenTouris, a tourism market research and marketing institute based in Bavaria, Germany. The institute promotes film tourism around the world by way of destination marketing consulting, development and implementation of film-related tourism products and many other tactics.

“New tourism products and business opportunities such as film sets or guided film location tours and increased film-friendliness of the local populace are also some effects,” said Roesch.

According to film-tourism.com, “Visitors to film locations want an on-site experience which engages their emotions and tells them a story.” Providing this type of experience and evoking this sort of emotion are the very goals of today’s public relations professionals, no matter which particular market they serve.

For example, when Gwyneth Paltrow was in Wilmington, N.C., filming “Iron Man 3,” she dined and had a cooking lesson at local restaurant Catch. Later, she wrote about her positive experiences on her goop.com blog.

Stars simply tweeting about the film location is publicity in itself. Josh Duhamel tweeted about playing on the Oak Island golf course while filming “Safe Haven” in South Haven, N.C., and Emma Roberts called Folks Cafe in Wilmington, N.C., “the best coffee I’ve ever had” while filming “We’re the Millers” there last summer.

“Film tourism as a marketing tool is considered to be very effective due to several reasons,” Roesch said. “It’s perceived as below-the-line-advertising, it forms an emotional connection to place, it reaches a broad audience, and it is an affordable way of marketing a destination.”

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