What is Screen Tourism?

Be it a film or a TV show, we observed a rise in television watching throughout the pandemic as people found different ways to deal with their reality. Seen as a way to immerse yourself in the world of TV shows and movies, screen tourism (a.k.a Film Tourism) has emerged as a response to the growing hunger for escapist experiences that people are seeking as global travel resumes. It denotes the pastime of people travelling based on their favourite TV shows and films, whether that is to the real-life filming locations, or themed places that evolve the fictional world depicted on the screen.

The tourism industry has seized upon this deeper engagement that audiences have found with their content, and we’re starting to see innovative solutions that allow people to take their obsession with their favourite shows and films to the next level.

Apps and brands like Airbnb, with the announcement of their thematic stays based around content like Queer Eye, Scooby Doo and Moulin Rouge, and Netflix, with its partnership with the UN World Tourism Organization, have been quick to jump on this opportunity. Not only that, tourism companies and governmental bodies are becoming increasingly aware of the advantages of encouraging audiences to visit famous sets of TV shows and films, making it so that destinations not previously considered leading locations for tourism are finding new opportunities to promote themselves through screen tourism. 

Escaping Reality

Considering the hours that audiences have interested in these shows and characters, this trend couldn’t have come at a better time. With travel restrictions easing up all around the world, there has been a wave of tourists wanting to cross out items from their bucket lists, preferring a longer, more immersive experience within local cultures. Putting these locations on the top of their travel lists, tourists are now looking for places where they can interact with not only their people and culture, but also their locations as filming sets. In the UK alone, opportunities include a Bridgerton worthy afternoon tea to being a part of one Agatha Christie’s chapters, and we’ve observed an overwhelming response of consumers wanting to experience things outside of their realm of normalcy, be it new food, some out-of-their-comfort-zone activities, or a fictional world. 

Although Screen Tourism is not an entirely new phenomenon, it has been growing with the release of global hits such as Squid Game and The Crown – all shows that put great importance not only on their amazing locations, but also on their cultural influences. This way of travel has caught the attention of private companies and governments alike– Diana Gabaldon, the author of literary series and TV show Outlander, was presented the International Contribution to Scottish Tourism award by the Scottish Cabinet for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, thanks to her (you guessed it!) contribution to Scottish tourism. 

However, the economy of these countries is not the only aspect that has seen a boom; a cultural rebirth is on the horizon with more and more people starting to link these countries and their heritage to their favourite shows.

“Northern Ireland’s cultural and industrial heritage in stained glass production is world renowned and the stained glass installations on The Glass of Thrones trail give tourists another unique way to explore the Game of Thrones story in Northern Ireland and immerse themselves in Northern Ireland’s rich artistic heritage.” – Áine Kearney, October 2021, on Northern Ireland Travel News

Now, there are more unorthodox immersions into these fascinating places. Not long after Squid Game found global success, there were reports of the iconic doll appearing in multiple cities, Manchester included. This only shows just how much people want to bring those realities (as grim as they might be) to life, creating a replica of a world that only exists on TV. An official Squid Game tour of South Korea has already taken to the streets of Seoul, offering the tourists much more than a simple walk around town: for the first two days of the tour, they are nothing more and nothing less than the Squid Games players, having to go through the challenges and even the possible elimination from the games. In this case, there seems to be two types of tours in one experience– the world of Squid Game and then the real world– creating an odd balance in between immersion and projection.

Next Steps for Screen Tourism

The advantages of screen tourism in the countries chosen to be regarded as film locations are very clear, but what does this mean for screen tourism itself?

It might be the case of people, now more than ever, looking for immersive experiences that bring them closer to something they’ve dedicated hours of their lives to. Or it might just be the idea of joining something bigger than them, being a part of a community of people who have similar tastes and ideas. All in all, screen tourism brings together different facets of a vacation, allowing for both relaxation and integration of oneself onto whatever reality you chose to explore. 

So what about you? Which fictional TV or film universe would you want to travel to?