Film tourism offers hotels turn in spotlight
18 JUNE 2014 5:57 AM
More travelers are seeking out properties that played roles in their favorite movies and TV shows, but not all marketers are leveraging the trend.
GLOBAL REPORT—When the remake of “The Great Gatsby” was released in May 2013, it proved a boon for one North Carolina hotel, the 100-year-old Omni Grove Park Inn.
Fans of the story, based on a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald, started hurriedly booking the pair of rooms in which the author had stayed during the summers of 1935 and 1936. The suites were continually requested and remained sold out for five straight months based on the popularity of the film.*
Staff at the Omni Grove Park Inn acknowledge that Fitzgerald counts among its many famous guests—management even hosts a F. Scott Fitzgerald weekend around his birthday each year—but no special promotion was offered in relations to the recent movie. That demand spiked so significantly highlights not only the growing trend of film tourism, but also the opportunity that exists to leverage the trend to drive performance higher.
“Travelers are always looking for a destination that is unique and special, a place that takes them outside of their current element,” said Joe Santore, GM of the Tarrytown House Estate, in Tarrytown, New York. “Oftentimes, environments that are displayed through popular movies and television shows provide a fantasy that can’t easily be attained in their own towns. Therefore, they visit places like our hotel, which is located in the neighborhood depicted by the FOX TV series ‘Sleepy Hollow.’”
As such, Stefan Roesch, a movie tourism expert and the author of the book “The Experiences of Film Location Tourists,” wrote via email to Hotel News Now that hoteliers and any other travel-related professionals not taking advantage of this ever-growing niche are missing out on a gold mine.
He cites Norway’s historic Finse 1222 hotel as a prime example: “The hotel has been the base for the film team of ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’; filming took place on the nearby glacier. Yet the hotel does not mention this fact on its website at all. In my opinion, this is a missed opportunity. Why don’t they advertise the fact heavily and then also offer location tours around the glacier?”
A share of the spotlight
Hoteliers need to be proactive to steal their share of the spotlight from popular films. Some basic knowledge about the trend helps.
For instance, while Roesch said there is no such thing as the average movie tourist (“attributes such as gender, country of origin, income, preferred accommodation type, etc. vary from film to film”), he noted that romances and dramas are the genres that seem to spark the most interest.
“In short,” he said, “films that 1) evoke deep emotional feelings, 2) showcase attractive locations and 3) manage to combine both of those two vital necessities into a sought-after travel experience have the necessary prerequisites to initiate film location tourism.”
He also acknowledged a burgeoning segment within the film tourism niche.
“TV series have recently become the new stars in film location tourism,” Roesch said. “I’m thinking about series such as ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Downtown Abbey,’ ‘Homeland,’ and ‘House of Cards.’ TV location tourism will be a major segment in the future of media-related tourism.”
Tours and packages
Themed hotel packages are one of the most popular and obvious ways to attract movie tourists.
For instance, even though the show’s run has ended, several Albuquerque, New Mexico, hoteliers are still offering “Breaking Bad”-related offers that include extras like maps of area locations where the series was shot and a goodie bag containing two packs of blue “crystal meth” candy from the local sweet shop that supplied the show with props.
Guided tours of former film sets are another way marketers can attract movie tourists.
So many movies and TV shows have been filmed on its grounds that the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, offers a weekly Tinseltown Tour showcasing locations seen in everything from “The Aviator” to “Baywatch.” The resort also shares its Hollywood history on its website, in its guest newsletter and via social media. It also named its casual dining restaurant, Nelson’s, after the main character in “Sea Hunt,” which was shot in the ocean coves directly below the eatery.
Food and beverage itself also can come into play. Still on the menu at the bar of the Park Hyatt Tokyo, for example, is a cocktail called the Lost in Translation, which is named for the Oscar-winning movie filmed at the hotel in 2002.
But a property doesn’t have to be a onetime film locale or have one nearby to get in on the act. Take The Langham in Chicago. Earlier this year, to celebrate the last season of the hit AMC series “Mad Men,” its Travelle lounge launched tableside cocktail service featuring a drink called the Madhattan, delivered to patrons on a 60s-inspired serving cart.
Roesch suggested hoteliers also should take advantage of the services of the local tourism body, not only in order to create film location packages and other promotions but to find out about possible filming in the area in order to jump on the bandwagon as early as possible and perhaps even offers rooms at reduced rates for the cast and crew in exchange for testimonials or movie props that can be displayed onsite.
Whatever the angle, promotions need to be engaging and unique to garner the desired audience.
“A great story, be it in a film, told by a historian, or framed on a wall, will always engage,” said Tracey Johnston-Crum, the director of public relations and community outreach at the Omni Grove Park Inn. “And in the end, as hoteliers, isn’t that what we all want—a genuine engagement between the property and the guests, offering each guest their very own story to tell?”
Correction, 19 June 2014: An earlier version of this story stated that the entire hotel sold out for five months. Only the two suites sold out during that time.