Kate Simon: The silver screen can create tourism gold
Sunday 06 March 2011
It's not just the British film industry that will be applauding The King's Speech for winning four Oscars last Sunday. Britain's tourism industry will be celebrating, too.
For film tourism has revealed itself to be very lucrative. Who, beyond the history buffs, knew much about Alnwick Castle – let alone could pronounce its name (say Annick) – before the Harry Potter movies?
Now the screen location for Hogwarts is a must-visit destination for every true Potter fan (including all those parents who like to read a bit of Rowling by torchlight beneath the bedcovers). It had a 120 per cent rise in visitor numbers after the release of the first film, which also generated £9m in tourist revenue to the area.
The Da Vinci Code increased visitor numbers to Lincoln Cathedral, and put both Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian, Scotland, and Temple Church in London firmly on the tourist trail. Pride & Prejudice – the film version starring Matthew Macfayden and Keira Knightley – brought fame to Burghley House, the exquisite Elizabethan country estate in Lincolnshire.
Ruth Hudson, operations manager at Burghley House, confirms the value of an attraction becoming a film set. "Filming is always great publicity and provides both national and international visitors with a new incentive to visit the house," she says. "The year after Pride & Prejudice was shown, our visitor numbers rose by 42 per cent."
A report by the soon-to-be-defunct UK Film Council, confirms that locations can experience a dramatic rise in visitor numbers. And it adds: "For films or TV programmes with cult status, such as Trainspotting, the tourism boost can last for years."
Film fans have even prompted local authorities to turn fiction into reality, according to the UKFC. The red telephone box in Local Hero, a prop discarded after filming, was enquired about so much that the location village of Pennan installed one and it is now a listed building. And at King's Cross Station in London a plaque was put up to mark the fictional Platform 93/4 in response to the demand from Potter fans.
Confirming just how important film tourism has become for our tourist attractions, the National Trust has just released a movie map (nationaltrust.org.uk/moviemap) to celebrate what it calls its "best year for filming". It says it locations have provided the setting for more major movie hits than ever before.
The King's Speech could result in a bumper year for Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire or even the Queen Street Mill Textile Museum in Burnley, Lancashire. But a friend of mine, who works in media relations for some English tourist boards, has a different take on how The King's Speech will fill tourism coffers. "I've done meet-the-travel-media in America, Belgium and Holland recently, and I've never picked up on so much interest in Britain," he tells me. "Part of the conversation has been about The King's Speech, part about the royal wedding, part about the Queen's diamond jubilee – and part, of course, about the Olympics. For all these reasons, Britain seems to be enjoying 'flavour of the month' status."
As a diehard republican, that's hard news to take. But the British tourist industry will be happy to hear it.
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