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Film-Induced Tourism: The Case of Game of Thrones and Dubrovnik


While there is a long tradition of people visiting recent and ancient locations as a setting for film campaigns, the term “film-induced tourism” has only been coined in the last decades. Film-induced tourism is a new form of cultural tourism that still receives little attention from academia due to the lack of understanding of how films could benefit tourism (Walaiporn, 2008). As rightly argued, film-induced tourism, which falls under the umbrella concept of cultural tourism, denotes situations where the tourism product is generated within and from the destination or attraction being featured on television, video, or the cinema screen (Gjorgievski & Trpkova, 2012). There are numerous parameters in a film that contribute to sparking fascination toward the projected destination. Tourist motivation has a multi-faceted dimension, and its formation can be attributed to different reasons. Despite its inherent complexity, it is generally accepted that media representations of a setting can play a fundamental role in how viewers perceive it (Pearce & Lee, 2005). This article analyses media-induced tourism's role in the recent increase in visitations to Dubrovnik regarding the HBO fantasy drama television series Game of Thrones. It will also pinpoint the domino effects of the tourism gaze shift in Dubrovnik’s cultural transformation.


Figure 1: Walk in Dubrovnik. (2021). Walls of Dubrovnik [Photograph]. Dubrovnik. Croatia.


Media-Induced Tourism and Tourism Gaze


Media-induced tourism is a phenomenon associated with alterations in tourist gaze, “a new way to activate or motivate passive visitors after watching any destinations through movies or TV screens” (Beeton, 2008). In the tourism industry, many countries have considered film's influence on tourists. Not only because a film could promote a location worldwide but it could also contribute to its economic boost in tourist numbers. Hence, tourist boards and offices promote film location holidays, film destination holidays, and movie tours, transforming filming locations into commercialised attractions and providing a sustainable economic contribution to the destination in the long term.


Under this scope, it becomes evident that digital media can lead to the reformulation of the image of the destination by attaching new connotations to it. If the popularisation of the most characteristic elements of the destination through theme-related series is aptly manipulated by the stakeholders involved in the city’s marketing, it would not be exaggerated to say that media can engineer change in the city’s branding.


Many recent theories have explored the relationship between the tourist gaze formation and the media’s influence on a destination’s representations. As it has been argued, it often becomes the case that the site itself becomes a souvenir of the film since tourists may develop an interest in returning home to a TV series set in a place they visited (Beeton, 2015). Boundaries can become blurred in what is real and unreal when fiction is combined with fact. However, tourists do not embark on their journeys in search of authenticity but “are often more interested in experiencing what has been promoted through the powerful visual media than in gazing at so-called 'dead' history” (Beeton, 2005, p. 22). Many visitors to film sites do not expect to see exactly what they viewed on the screen; instead, they share a fascination for the “inauthenticity” of the film media, bragging about possessing an insider’s knowledge.


Figure 2: Heitmann, S. (2010). Film tourism stakeholders [Ilustration]. University of Wolverhampton, Walsall, UK.


As it has been argued, tourist attractions require a “marker” that provides meaning and creates positive associations with the attraction. Visual media construct or reinforce images as markers of those destinations (MacCannell, 1999). These created images aptly influence tourist motivation and behaviour and can shape a country’s identity, image and cultural representations. Beeton (2016) explores another film-induced tourism aspect: unlike movie-induced tourism, series-induced tourism, due to the series’ long-term duration, reinforces the desire for tourist visitation with the maintained empathetic relationship of the viewers to the story, characters and setting.


Another remarkable concept is how travel behaviour is affected by self-congruity (Sirgy, 1981). The greater the match between the destination visitor’s image and the tourist’s self-concept (actual, ideal, social self-image), the more likely this tourist will be motivated to visit that destination. The match between the tourist’s ideal self-image and the destination image is a powerful motivator, as visitors will tend to select a destination that allows them to experience their ideal self-image. Kim (2012) also stresses the audience’s emotional involvement with the content (plot, characters, settings, music, etc.): the more emotional involvement the audience develops through viewing the TV series, the greater the likelihood that they will visit its filming locations and that their actual on-site tourism experiences at those locations will be perceived positively (p. 218). Waysdorf and Reijnders (2017) reach the same conclusion in their study of GOT-induced tourists in Northern Ireland and Dubrovnik, who experience the filming location as the space where it “all took place”, while also having the opportunity to discover the “hyperdiegetic space” surrounding the setting and to create a mental reconstruction of the filming process (pp. 173-175).


The Case of Dubrovnik


A case that indicates the branding shift that can occur with the influence of series is the city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. Dubrovnik was the main filming location for King's Landing, a fictional capital of the kingdom of Westeros in Game of Thrones, the famous television series based on the series of fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin distributed by HBO in 2011. Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has historically held the position of a great trading city in medieval times (Milekic, 2017). Dubrovnik’s economy these days relies almost entirely on tourism, which also represents an important asset for Croatia’s economy. It is also remarkable that tourism accounts for 18 per cent of Croatia’s annual GDP – the most significant percentage in Europe (Milekic, 2017).



Figure 3: Trautwig A. (n.d.). Tresteno Arboretum in Dubrovnik: Location in Game of Thrones vs in real life. [Photograph]. Architectural Digest.


Many famous scenes, such as Cersei's walk of shame, King Joffrey’s tournament and Daenerys Targaryen’s visit to Qarth, were all filmed in the city of King’s Landing. The genuine city of Dubrovnik essentially doubles as the imaginary King's Landing. According to the Zagreb-based Institute of Economics, after Dubrovnik's debut in Game of Thrones season two, the HBO show attracted more than 244,000 tourists – who have been reported to have spent some 126 million euros – to Dubrovnik between 2012 and 2015 (Tkalec et al., 2017). In addition, in 2015, Dubrovnik’s mayor Mato Franković told Bloomberg that Game of Thrones had driven about half of the city’s 10 per cent annual growth in tourism (Valle, 2019).


The Croatian city has long been a popular tourist destination in Europe. However, one can hardly deny that its recent boost in the economy and its popularity roar is not attributed and closely correlated to the launch, peak and recent finale of the Game of Thrones series. The topic of Dubrovnik as a film-induced heritage site has been extensively explored in the last few years. The city of Dubrovnik exemplifies the interplay of city representations in television series with human experience. In contrast, its ability to lure an increasing number of tourists even after the series finale has raised numerous questions.



Figure 4: HBO (n.d.). The Jesuit Stairs in Dubrovnik, Real Life vs Game of Thrones [Photograph]. Vogue.


Overtourism and Other Issues


The Game of Thrones series was a catalyst for Dubrovnik to be listed as the best cultural destination for 2019 by readers of many popular travel magazines, such as the American AFAR (Dimitrova, 2018). However, the advantages that the city of Dubrovnik has gained with its positive representation in the series have also led to rising implications from its sudden popularity burst. Increased visitation may not have an exclusively positive impact on the town so reliant on the tourism industry. The raised concerns of an overtourism crisis in 2019, when more than 1.2 million people descended on a city that is home to 42,000 locals, set the urgent need for an analysis of the negative aspects surrounding the effects of filming. Dubrovnik has been so overwhelmed by tourists that UNESCO issued a warning in 2018 that the Old Town, a World Heritage site, cannot handle the number of people who flock to it daily (Stojanovic, 2018). In the same year, Dubrovnik became the world’s second-leading cruise destination after Venice (Colovic & Brautovic, 2007).


In addition, the fact that Dubrovnik tourists’ Instagram posts overwhelmingly feature “#KingsLanding” as the second hashtag after “Dubrovnik” has sparked discussions concerning a potential nomenclature. Under this scope, the question is inevitably raised of whether nomenclature -changing the actual names of the towns- is an ethical destination marketing tool if it ignites resistance from the local community. With the capital of Westeros' Seven Kingdoms doubling as King's Landing, the situation can be a blessing and a curse for Dubrovnik since the two cities now rival each other for fame and spark ethical controversies over the cultural heritage of the place (Veselica & Gaudichet, 2019).


Figure 5: Dubrovnik Travel. (n.d.). A crowd of tourists at the Pile Gate [Photograph]. Dubrovnik. Croatia.


Conclusions


Recent theoretical research pinpoints the reconstruction processes of a city’s tourist landscape under the umbrella of film-induced tourism. This subject can offer a more solid understanding of tourists’ susceptibility to influencing input and of which external parameters contribute to forming new destination images. Featuring Dubrovnik in the famous TV series Game of Thrones as the main setting was a catalyst for the vast transformation of the city’s cultural aspects. Thus, Dubrovnik serves as a breeding ground for insights and adds new perspectives regarding media city representations. In combination with the recent finale of the HBO series, the choice of Dubrovnik as the case study was inevitable as it also relates to current events.


How the tourist experience is defined and framed by the destination’s media portrayal in TV series gives a deep understanding of what marketing techniques turn a relatively well-known tourist destination into a location of mainstream appeal. The observation of the transformation processes Dubrovnik currently undergoes to support the media-induced image change can reveal the potential developments needed to cater to the visitors’ needs and expectations. However, it is essential to consider whether marketing decisions should be re-evaluated if issues of overcrowding and loss of local privacy are at stake.


Bibliographical References

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Author Photo

Anny Polyzogopoulou