If your job is to promote tourism in a relatively off-the-radar destination, it helps to have the most successful animated movie of all time on your side. And a free promotional opportunity by the Walt Disney Company never hurts.
Norway has long had to compete for visitors with more fashionable European locales, but tourism is booming this year in the wake of Disney's enormously successful Frozen, the fictional snowy setting of which was inspired by the Scandinavian country. According to Innovation Norway, which promotes tourism in the country, travel to Norway has jumped. Website traffic to VisitNorway.com has tripled since the film's release in November, and the number of people searching for flights to Norway skyrocketed 153 per cent, according to Flight Tracker.
Frozen centres on the relationship between a fearless princess and her estranged sister, and its popularity has been supercharged by the best-selling soundtrack and the hit song "Let It Go". But Innovation Norway says viewers are also smitten by the film's stunning art direction, which presents digital renderings of Norwegian life, including charming stave churches, traditional "bunad" costumes and a sweeping mountainous backdrop. "It put Norway on the map," says Beate Gran, Innovation Norway's digital media manager and marketing coordinator.
Like all things Disney, the destination synergy was more marketing foresight than serendipity. Disney's guided tour division, Adventures by Disney, first approached Innovation Norway about a partnership in May 2013, six months before the film's US release. Although few could have predicted the phenomenon that Frozen would become, Hege Barnes, the director of Innovation Norway's New York branch, says her organisation didn't need to wait for box-office numbers before jumping at the chance to align with the Mouse House. "We saw the opportunity right away," she says. "Norway is a tiny little destination, relatively unknown in the US, so for us to be tied to a world-renowned brand such as Disney was huge."
Barnes says it was clear from advance clips of the film that the film-makers had done their research. Michael Giaimo, the movie's art director, travelled to Norway in 2011 and gained much of his inspiration from the city of Bergen, on the west coast. Barnes says that his attention to detail boosted her confidence that the promotion would be a success.
And it is, in almost every measurable sense. Since the Frozen landing page was launched on the Visit Norway website in November, it has received more than 270,000 visits, which Barnes says is 10 times what a typical page receives. The movie has also boosted business for Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, a low-cost carrier with routes from the US to Oslo. In March 2014, the airline's passenger traffic increased by 52 per cent compared with March 2013.
It's a big win for Norway's tourism industry, particularly as Innovation Norway didn't have to pay a licensing fee to Disney. Barnes characterises the partnership as more of a barter agreement. "Upon approval, we're allowed to use the creative elements from Frozen in our advertising," she says. "We spend a lot of money on advertising, and wherever we put that out, they get a promo for the film."
Amanda Adler, a spokeswoman for Destination Disney, says there has been "huge interest" in the Norwegian tour. Adventures by Disney, part of Disney's Parks and Resorts unit, runs guided tours to 27 destinations, but the Norway package is only the second one tied specifically to a Disney release. The first was a tour to Scotland after the 2012 Disney/Pixar film Brave.
Although Disney's animated films begin their development process years before tours are planned, the success with Frozen in Norway is likely to play at least a small role in choosing future animated projects. Disney's next Pixar release, Inside Out, is set in San Francisco.
Innovation Norway's agreement with Disney is due to expire, and Barnes says its continuation will depend in part on whether or not Disney offers to extend it. But, in many ways, the promotion has already served its purpose. Frozen is only beginning its life in the Disney franchise canon. A sequel is all but inevitable, as well as a stage musical. Barnes says that if people continue to associate those incarnations with Norway, then she and her colleagues have done their job. "Our goal was to tie Norway into that," she says. "We wanted people to see this beautiful movie and Norway together."