Marketing: Scotland targets set-jetters

The USA's tourism chiefs are, once again, using movie locations to attract visitors. But, says Tim Luckhurst, Scotland did it first, and its latest media push aims to capitalise on Harry Potter, 'The Da Vinci Code', et al
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The Independent Online

You've seen the film, now visit the set," proclaims the US Commerce Department's latest UK marketing campaign. But it is not entirely original. Eleven years before shots of King Kong atop the Empire State Building were deployed to lure Brits to New York, the Scottish Tourist Board (STB) pioneered the marketing of what we now call "set-jetting" with a campaign under the slogan, "You've seen the film, now see the country".

Back in 1995 it capitalised on the box-office success of Braveheart. More than 500,000 Americans flocked to Scotland, generating £100m for the tourism industry. The visitors did not seem to care that Braveheart was filmed in Ireland. Suddenly film looked like a foolproof marketing tool for tourism.

VisitScotland is convinced. This month the modern incarnation of the STB launched a £1.3m campaign marketing Scotland as a land packed with intriguing film locations. It offers visitors itineraries including Doune Castle, familiar to fans of Monty Python and the Holy Grail as Castle Anthrax, and Pennan, the Moray coast village where Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert and Jenny Seagrove appeared in Local Hero. Glenfinnan and Glencoe are already enjoying an influx of American families attracted by their use as locations in the Harry Potter films, and expectations are high that the film version of The Da Vinci Code will draw fresh hordes to Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian.

There is hard evidence that featuring on film and television makes locations attractive to tourists. Following the release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, visits to the Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming leapt 74 per cent. Brideshead Revisited had a similar impact on Castle Howard in Yorkshire and Alnwick Castle in Northumberland experienced a 100-per-cent increase in visitor numbers after it was used as the location for Harry Potter's alma mater, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

But there is a debate as to whether active marketing is necessary. "In many places set-jetting has just happened without any deliberate marketing strategy," says Joanne Connell of the School of Marketing at Stirling University. "In America, films such as The Fugitive and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe had a huge impact on visits to little places in the sticks, without any deliberate marketing."

Edinburgh noticed a marked increase in young adult visitors after the success of Trainspotting and even younger tourists swarmed over the Isle of Mull when it was used as the setting for the BBC children's programme Balamory. In the absence of any deliberate marketing, visits to Rosslyn Chapel increased from a 1990s average of 30,000 per year to 110,000 in 2005. Readers of Dan Brown's bestselling novel simply found the location on the internet and made their own way there.

But such invasions are not always popular. Mull lacked the infrastructure to accommodate large numbers of visitors and locals were appalled when families peered through windows in the baffling belief that characters from the show were hiding inside. Rosslyn was perturbed by swarms of visitors for which it had no suitable facilities.

VisitScotland believes that to make set-jetting sustainable, deliberate marketing is crucial. The agency's head of international marketing, Denise Hill, explains, "When you are looking at a natural set like Glencoe it is not a problem. It can take a lot of people. But we saw what happened with Balamory and one of the first things we did when planning this year's campaign around The Da Vinci Code was to go to Rosslyn and discuss exactly what was realistic. We were very careful to do that before we even began to write the marketing plan."

Rosslyn now has a visitor-centre and itineraries are being carefully scheduled to limit congestion. But VisitScotland's strategy uses it as a catalyst as well as a destination in its own right. The new campaign links it to the broader theme of Scotland as a land of mystery and legends.

Itineraries marketed via five million inserts in lifestyle and news magazines promote three separate visions - Scotland in Film and TV, Scotland in Literature and Scotland in Mystery and Legends. Visitors tempted by Rosslyn are encouraged to move on to sites including St Andrews (Chariots of Fire) and Robert Burns House in Dumfries, or to explore the legend of the Loch Ness Monster and ghostly tales associated with Glamis Castle.

Denise Hill explains "All of our research indicates that film is one of the things that motivates visits to Scotland. It animates ideas people already have about the country, about landscape, castles, palaces and mystery and reinforces ideas that have been dormant for a long time. Film presses the button that makes them come."

This applies particularly to Americans. Hill says "The scenes in Local Hero still make their hearts sing. Our job is to take the consumer by the hand and make sure the spark of interest ignited by a film does not go out. To sustain the interest you have to market and milk."

That has produced a campaign rooted in practicality. American and European visitors are predisposed to visit Scotland and every cinematic depiction of hills, lochs, glens and castles inspires fresh interest, but, says Hill, "Their knowledge of how to do it is very limited, so our campaign is information-rich." It includes tailor-made maps showing visitors exactly how to travel between film-sets and highlighting other attractions they will encounter en route.

Connell says "From VisitScotland's perspective, marketing set-jetting is a safe bet. There is a lot of interest and it adds a different dimension to the marketing of Scotland. It gets away from the old tartan and shortbread image. But there is a downside. It is not always a long-term strategy. In Stirling there were four or five good years after Braveheart, but visitor numbers have declined since. This sort of marketing can have a relatively short lifespan and countries have to keep making new films to sustain interest."

Professor John Lennon of Glasgow Caledonian University agrees that the impact can be temporary. "There is a correlation between marketing film and increased visitor numbers, but there is a question about how long it lasts. But films that highlight the natural beauty of Scotland are important because their impact does seem to be enduring. Film builds brands."

For VisitScotland film is a core component in marketing Scotland the brand. In every survey of foreign holidaymakers the agency identifies film as a motivation for visiting. But it is not always the primary motive. Pure set-jetting film buffs are relatively rare and tend to make their own way - even to the concrete jungle of Cumbernauld where Bill Forsyth filmed Dee Hepburn, John Gordon Sinclair and Clare Grogan in Gregory's Girl. But a family in which Dad wants to play golf will often contain children intrigued by Harry Potter and mum and dad may share an interest in The Wicker Man (filmed in Skye, Lochalsh and Ayrshire) or Casino Royale (Perth).

The American entertainment industry dwarfs Scotland's but research shows that marketing Caledonia to America via movies appeals to all ages, both genders and diverse income groups. In terms of bangs per buck VisitScotland's £1.3m may prove better spent than the US Commerce Secretary's copycat campaign. Especially as, when you reach Glencoe the mountains are still there, while King Kong has quit the skyscraper.