Going on vacation on location

Why book a holiday from a brochure when you can journey through scenes from the silver screen? As Baz Luhrmann's Australia lures visitors Down Under, Tim Walker follows the stars

Across Western Australia, tour operators are pouring coals on barbecues, chilling lagers in cold stores and hanging corks from their wide-brimmed hats in preparation for an influx of visitors, following the international roll-out of writer-director Baz Luhrmann's new outback epic, Australia, which is due to be released in the UK on Boxing Day.

The movie, which was shot in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, comes complete with a Luhrmann-made suite of television advertisements to promote the country's tourism industry. "Australia offers vast spaces full of natural beauty, and Baz has used that to its fullest. It's very moving," says Rodney Harrex, Tourism Australia's UK general manager. "And the name of this movie is Australia, so we don't even have to explain what it's about."

The blokes and sheilas at Tourism Australia are hoping the film, which stars two of the nation's biggest names, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, can do the same for them as the Lord of the Rings trilogy did for New Zealand. "I came out of Lord of the Rings with tears in my eyes, because it really showcased New Zealand," says Gregg Anderson, Harrex's opposite number over at Tourism New Zealand. "There was a huge increase of visitor numbers following its release, and research showed that 93 per cent of our visitors knew that Lord of the Rings was shot in New Zealand."

A guidebook to New Zealand's Lord of the Rings locations swiftly became the country's biggest bestseller, and nowadays visitors can see many of its most spectacular sights through the prism of a Lord of the Rings tour, but a sightseeing expedition to Middle Earth is far from the world's only fantasy film location holiday on offer.

The Tunisian desert and the conical rock fromations of Turkey's Cappadocia region still trade off their appearances in the original Star Wars trilogy, when they provided homes for a menagerie of space creatures. Considerably more far-fetched than either Star Wars or Lord of the Rings was The Da Vinci Code. Fans of the preposterous book and/or movie can visit Paris and/or London on a conducted tour of its locations. Luckily for first-time visitors to the French capital, the tour does, at least, take in the Louvre. The ancient Nabatean city of Petra in Jordan gained a hell of a boost in visitor numbers after doubling as the final resting place of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989 (and is a stone's throw from the crucial spots on any Lawrence of Arabia tour). Local hotels still screen scratchy VHS copies of the Spielberg movie for their guests.

The same goes for the hostelries of Udaipur in Rajasthan, India, which play the James Bond movie Octopussy on an ever-repeating loop. The town's stunning Lake Palace Hotel featured at its climax. No doubt the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere's hotel in Chile's Atacama Desert will have a rush of bookings following its appearance in the latest Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. And for the bargain price of £190, visitors to London can take a taxi tour of former Bond locations.

Last month, London mayor Boris Johnson announced a loosening of the legislation on moviemaking in the capital, in the hope of encouraging the city's film industry and, in turn, its international image. Londoners frequently complain of their city's saccharine, picture-postcard portrayal in the films of Richard Curtis or, more recently, Woody Allen, yet statistics suggest that one in five visitors to London came after seeing its most famous locations on film. Little surprise, then, that are plenty of London walking tours taking in locations from Four Weddings and a Funeral, Harry Potter, The Bourne Ultimatum, 28 Days Later, Bridget Jones's Diary, Mission: Impossible and more. Committed Harry Potter fans can hire private guides from a number of different operators, who'll drive them out of London to more magical locations in Oxford and Gloucester.

Woody Allen's earlier work has no doubt attracted many a film buff to Manhattan. Nowadays, New York visitors might prefer to take the Sex and the City tour, or cross the bridge to New Jersey for a visit to the small-screen spots featured in The Sopranos. No, a picture needn't be pretty for fans to make the pilgrimage. Even the mean streets of Baltimore now boast a tour of ghetto locations from the famously gritty television drama The Wire. And next year, if the credit crunch eases, expect the slums of Mumbai to enjoy a tourism boom courtesy of Danny Boyle's colourful Indian drama, Slumdog Millionaire.

The early word on Australia is decidedly mixed, though the scenery, say critics, is predictably impressive. However hackneyed its script, Tourism Australia must be hoping that audience members planning holidays for post-crunch 2010 will remember one thing: the camera never lies.

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