From fiction to travel.

Enhancing tourism inspired by popular media. How travel brands leverage the potential of stories on and off screen to attract visitors.

By Isabella Kattner9th November 2018

Reasons to go on a trip.

Every journey starts with a reason. Without one, there is no point in travel, no destination and motivation. Now the whys of going on a journey vary. There are four common – and sometimes intertwining - motivations.

  • Obligation. Having to go somewhere: business trip, funeral, visit authorities.
  • Experience. Wanting to go somewhere to broaden one’s horizon (indulge in new culture, do things you can only do elsewhere): leisure travel, adventure trip, language course abroad.
  • Relationship. Going somewhere to strengthen or establish relationships: honeymoon, family trip, fan convention, group tour.
  • Recreation. Wishing to get out of the usual environment and resting without distraction: wellness retreat, health resort, spa.

There’s a specific area of experience-driven travel that is motivated by media, specifically audio-visual fiction, pop culture and Social Media. Depending on where you look, there’s different terms for it: pop culture travel or cine-tourism, for example. It’s worth keeping an eye on this phenomenon as there’s potential for travel brands to explore new markets and get creative with their offering.

Media inspires travel.

Audio-visual content, in mass media and online, shapes how we see the world every day – and what we see of the world. When watching movies and series, we find ourselves dreaming about the sceneries where our favourite stories take place. Scrolling through our Social Media feeds and reading “must-see” articles, we are exposed to images of city skylines, holiday beaches and stunning mountain ranges. What we have seen on screen could end up on our bucket list, becoming a major motivation for travel. In short, wanderlust.

Cine-tourism” offers business opportunities – travel industry events confirm this. The 2018 Shanghai “Film & TV” event, organised by the European Travel Commission, is backed up by EU funding and attended by over 140 travel professionals – looking to boost tourism in Europe. VisitBritain and UKinbound held the Film is GREAT Seminar in 2016, stating the potential of leveraging media-inspired travel: “In recent years we have seen exceptional growth and how powerful film and television are at driving tourism to destinations.

To use this potential, travel brands first have to evaluate their connection to popular media content. Steps in this analysis should include:

  • Is our offering connected to any popular formats like TV programmes, movies and other fictional stories?
  • Are our venues near filming locations, places named in popular books and stories or featured as “must see” places? Are we offering tours in those places?
  • Are our customers interested in popular media stories or should we augment our target group to such customers in the future?

The following examples show some ideas and best practices of how travel brands use the potential in this niche segment of travel.

SEO and website.

Four in five people book a holiday online, according to the ABTA Holiday Habits report 2018. Search engines specifically are a starting point of digital customer journeys, making SEO an essential part of travel businesses’ marketing mix. To leverage the potential of media-inspired tourism, travel brands can step in and put their offering on the map. Fans of movies and series, for example, are keen to discover filming locations. 

The New Zealand Tourism board makes use of this, offering various tours for fans of the trilogies The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. More than 150 locations in New Zealand have been featured in the big screen movies. The tourism board’s website states: “Ever since the first The Lord of the Rings movie was released in 2001, New Zealand has been known as the 'Home of Middle earth'.” 

With articles and descriptions about the movie-themed tours and attractions, the website boosts search engine optimisation (SEO). When googling “New Zealand” plus the names of the trilogies, it appears right on top of the results page as an organic search result as well as a paid result. The tourism board does not only provide rich online content and high-quality imagery on their movie-themed offering but also allocates budget to Google Ads to attract users to their site.

It is vital for travel companies to optimise their online content in a way that improves their ranking on search result pages. SEO consultant Moz confirms that the first three results in search engines receive the most traffic – below those, page visits are rare. SEO ensures that your page is indexed by search engines in the first place and ideally, that it’s prominently ranked.

Visitscotland.com features multiple movie-related articles and is listed prominently in the Google search results for James Bond and Harry Potter filming locations. 007-specific articles use keywords such as “film location”, “James Bond” and “Scotland” in their headlines – a key factor for SEO-optimising pages to catch organic traffic.

Apart from data-driven factors, the feel of a website is also critical for the booking decision. Travellers are looking to get closer to where their favourite stories take place and absorb some of their atmosphere. Strive for great imagery or video clips to showcase this, paired with descriptive and compelling details of the experience your visitors will get.

The Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 ¾, located at King’s Cross Station in London, does a great job at bringing some “magic” onto their online presence: Themed illustrations, video underlined with the original soundtrack and high-quality photos of the merchandising encourages fans to visit their store.

Tours and recommendation sites.

Recommendations and reviews platforms such as TripAdvisor, Viator and TimeOut often list tours of film locations prominently. The London neighbourhood Notting Hill is popular on TripAdvisor because of the same-named movie. Scrolling through the reviews shows that visitors are delighted to see the blue door of the house of Hugh Grant’s character and hear about related stories from their guides. The profile of the “Notting Hill Bookshop”, featured prominently in the movie and visited by thousands since, has also received very good ratings.

Brands who want to use the potential of recommendation sites should manage their venue actively, put on relevant and compelling information and invite visitors to review. Positive feedback will increase their visibility on sites such as TripAdvisor or booking.com.

Also, it’s worth trying to be featured on influential websites. Tourist boards and travel blogs know about the importance of films and TV shows in attracting travellers. The Film and TV” section on Visit Britain recommends London distilleries and tailor shops for fans of the movie Kingsman, for example - boasting the English gentleman’s lifestyle. Fans of Downton Abbey are directed to articles on the charming towns and villages where the series was filmed. References then lead on to local eateries, shops and activities, generating digital and on-site “traffic” for those locations. Visit Britain also refers to Game of Thrones movie sets:

Locations and Social Media.

Tourists that travel to locations featured in popular media will sleep, eat and shop somewhere. Possibly, they also browse for venues nearby to round up their experience and find other local sights. Make sure you are visible to them when they are on the lookout.

Google Maps is a first priority for travel brands to look into. Make sure to set up a Google MyBusiness profile and regularly update the information such as contact details, opening hours and photos.

While user-generated content is gaining popularity among travellers, Instagram specifically is a popular platform tor travel inspiration today. “The Dark Hedges”, featured as the King’s Road in Game of Thrones, have their own location tag for photos (geotag) and the hashtag #darkhedges. Through those, they can easily be found and users searching for the location will see the amazing photos posted by visitors. The Instagram Explore function displays personalised content that a user might like, acting like a feed full of recommendations. The Instagram Marketers at Later give useful tips for being featured in the Travel Explore tab.

Offline.

Don’t forget about offline. As much as digital touchpoints stimulate the appetite for travel, there are more opportunities to get fans engaged.

Similar to being featured on influential websites, reach out to newspapers, magazines and tourist offices. Advertise your proximity to locations known from movies, series or books and possibly relate your offering to them in an article that local media outlets can adopt in their publications.

If you want to offer a unique experience to media-inspired travellers, you might consider having themed offerings. Baroque-style rooms for Marie Antoinette fans, a Harry Potter-style menu near the filming locations or offering movie-themed tours – there’s certainly room for imagination.

Turning fans into visitors.

After defining your brand’s connection to popular media stories and your opportunities to attract fans, it’s time to think about appropriate channels to attract your target audience. To be visible for Google users, use SEO optimisation. What are the right Social Media platforms to catch attention? Define your strategy, set your objectives to measure against and be creative.