Throngs of fans who made pilgrimages to cinemas over the
weekend to take in the highly anticipated “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
finally got to see the first addition to the sci-fi franchise in a decade.
And while “Star Wars” was Nirvana for the film industry,
breaking myriad box-office records, it also promised to be a holiday gift to
the travel industry, having been shot on locations that are likely to see a
boost in visitor numbers thanks to the exposure.
“ ‘Star Wars’ boasts some of the most dedicated fans on
the planet, and now moviegoers can visit many of the places that capture their
mind on the big screen,” said John Geysen, manager of communications at
Collette, which is hoping that the filming locations featured in the movie will
spur demand for the company’s tours to the host destinations.
“The original trilogy of films,” he said,
“were shot in exciting locations such as Mexico, the Pacific Northwest,
California’s Death Valley, Norway and even Guatemala. The less-loved prequels
relied heavily on [computer-generated imagery] … giving them a less tangible
quality. Today, as director J.J. Abrams returns to pick up the story of Han
Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, he has returned to some spectacular
real-world filming locations.”
Like much surrounding the new movie, those real-world
filming locations have been shrouded in relative secrecy. But, like much
surrounding the new “Star Wars” movie, there have been numerous rumors and
leaks, including about where the film was shot.
According to several news outlets and the Internet movie
database site IMDB.com, the film’s locations include the Skellig Rocks and
other locations in Ireland; Scotland; Myvatn and the Krafla volcano in Iceland;
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Greenham Common in Berkshire, England; and New
Mexico in addition to studio locations and possibly several additional locales.
The destination marketing organizations that represent
those locations have not yet received confirmation from Disney that they were
used for the filming, and they are awaiting the go-ahead from Disney before
they can actively market them.
“I’d love to be able to say that we’re going to market
Scotland on the back of “Star Wars,” but unfortunately we are not privy to any
of the details of where it was shot in Scotland,” said Tom Maxwell, corporate
press officer for VisitScotland.
Ingvar Ingvarsson, who oversees public relations for
Promote Iceland, said he, too, was unable to comment on anything related to the
new “Star Wars” movie as of yet.
But he noted that according to a 2014 survey conducted by
the Icelandic Tourist Board, 14.3% of visitors travel there because they have
seen Iceland in movies, television series or music videos.
“We are, of course, excited to see if this result will
change for this year due to ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens.’” Ingvarsson said.
“We would expect to see an increase in film tourism because of ‘Star Wars.’ ”
Finn, portrayed by John Boyega, in a scene from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Photo Credit: Disney
Indeed, if history is any predictor, the destinations
featured in “The Force Awakens” are likely to see interest soar.
Norway, for example, continues to see increased demand,
thanks, in part, to Disney’s hit animated film “Frozen,” which was set in the
fictional kingdom of Arendelle, based on sights and scenery in Norway.
Norway saw a 31% increase in travelers from the U.S. in
2014 compared with 2013, the year “Frozen” was released. And from January 2014
through October 2015, the country experienced a 40% increase in visitors from
the U.S., according to Harald Hansen, spokesman for Visit Norway.
Other countries have seen a similar boost from the movie
industry. For the past 15 years, Tourism New Zealand has successfully marketed
New Zealand as the home of Middle-earth, the fictional land from the “Lord of
the Rings” trilogy, much of which was filmed in New Zealand.
According to the New Zealand Institute of Economic
Research, that campaign has resulted in increased interest and travel to New
Zealand, predominantly from western markets such as the U.S., U.K. and Germany.
VisitBritain, which has seen demand to the U.K. climb in
lockstep with certain hit films, such as the Harry Potter and James Bond
franchises, said that 40% of potential travelers to Britain were very likely to
visit places from films or TV. Glencoe Mountain in the Scottish Highlands, for
example, saw an increase in visitation of more than 40% thanks, in part, to
scenes from the Bond movie “Skyfall.”
To further leverage the popularity of the James Bond
character and films, VisitBritain has launched a global Bond is Great campaign
in partnership with Sony Pictures Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios
to coincide with last month’s release of “Spectre,” the most recent addition to
Clearly, while opportunity knocks when a popular movie
showcases a potential travel destination, few films ever experience the level
of hype surrounding the new “Star Wars” movie.
Disney itself will be capitalizing on the excitement, not
just at the box office but with new “Star Wars” entertainment at Walt Disney
World that opened two weeks ahead of the movie at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
In advance of entire “Star Wars”-themed lands that are in
the works at both Disney World and Disneyland in California, Disney World
unveiled a courtyard filled with all-things “Star Wars,” a video game center, a
movie theater showing abridged versions of the “Star Wars” movies and a motion
simulator showing “Star Wars” locales and characters.
Meanwhile, other travel marketers aren’t waiting to try
to get in on some of the “Star Wars” action.
HomeToGo, the vacation rental website, has been promoting
rentals in destinations that have been featured in previous “Star Wars” films,
such as California’s Death Valley, Norway and Italy. The Japanese airline ANA
has decorated some of its planes with “Star Wars” characters as part of an
agreement with Disney. And last week, Frontier Airlines came out with a “low
fares awaken” promotion, the ads for which feature animals decked out in “Star