Not even Disney’s legendary marketing prowess could have produced (or anticipated) the overwhelming success of its animated film “Frozen” — or the subsequent surge in travel to Norway it has spurred.
“We have seen buzz before resulting from a book or film, most notably the rush to Everest after [Jon] Krakauer’s ‘Into Thin Air’ was published, but never anything quite like this,” said Barbara Banks, director of marketing and new trip development for Wilderness Travel.
Banks said that following the release of “Frozen” in November, the company’s Norway products were 90% sold out before spring even rolled in.
She personally traveled to Norway in March to create three new itineraries to fill the demand, as well as to add more departures for the company’s existing fjords trips.
Tour operators like Wilderness Travel have reported a 20% to 40% increase in sales to Norway for the 2014 season, according to VisitNorway, the country’s tourism marketing organization.
Virtuoso reported a 65% in increase of sales to Norway for this summer, and total arrivals from New York at the international airport in Oslo for the first quarter of 2014 were up 57% over last year, according to VisitNorway.
While the uptick in business seems astonishing when tied to the success of a single movie, it wasn’t entirely happenstance. VisitNorway partnered with Disney in October, in advance of the film’s November release, to introduce a global marketing campaign to raise awareness about the destination, on which the fictional kingdom of Arendelle featured in the film was based.
The campaign, which ran through May 31, featured promotions and special events throughout the film’s theatrical and home entertainment run, plus social media and website exposure, including a dedicated section about “Frozen” on VisitNorway.com
At the launch of the campaign, Per-Arne Tuftin, director of tourism at Innovation Norway, said, “This is a fantastic opportunity for us to promote Norway as a wonderful tourist destination.” Innovation Norway is a government entity that works to promote Norwegian enterprise across business sectors.
Tuftin added: “Disney is well known around the world, and we hope that in providing the backdrop to this film, Norway will appeal to the film’s fans, viewers of all ages who will be inspired to visit Norway and explore our beautiful country in the years ahead.”
Little did Tuftin imagine then just how deeply the film and campaign would resonate.
Less than one year after its release, “Frozen” already ranks among Disney’s most successful franchises. Capitalizing on that seemingly unrelenting momentum, Disney’s own tour brand, Adventures by Disney, also introduced a Norway itinerary for 2014.
Ken Potrock, senior vice president of Adventures by Disney, said, “This adventure allows guests to follow in the footsteps of the ‘Frozen’ filmmakers and see the places that inspired this popular, Academy Award-winning film. Bookings for the Norway itinerary are incredibly strong.”
Adventures by Disney has introduced six departures of its eight-day Norway itinerary for 2014, and it recently announced six more departures for 2015.
It’s not uncommon for destination marketing organizations to attempt to seize on the popularity of a film or TV show set in their destination to lure travelers in, but rarely do they experience this level of conversion.
“There was such a rush to New Zealand when the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films first came out,” Banks said. “The Kiwis called it ‘the Frodo economy.’ I think it might be time for the Norwegians to come up with a similar phrase.”
Visits by Americans to the VisitNorway website have tripled since the release of the movie, and flight searches from the U.S. to Norway are up 153%, according to research cited by Disney.
Since its Nov. 27 U.S. release, “Frozen” has garnered more than $400 million at the domestic box office and has pulled in more than $1.2 billion worldwide.
___Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.