‘Game of Thrones’ popularity may herald era of screen tourism for NI
Set-jetting visitors could play lead role in creating jobs in locally-owned firms
Game Of Thrones: the TV series, broadcast in more than 70 countries, has also helped make some of the North’s stunning locations featured in the series must-see attractions for dedicated fans.
It is known locally as the Dark Hedges but to millions of fans of hit television series Game of Thrones the unusual tree-lined avenue in Co Antrim is undisputedly the “Kings Road”.
It is also just one of the reasons why Northern Ireland’s budding “set-jetting” tourism industry could be set to play a starring role in creating additional jobs in locally owned businesses this year.
The “Kings Road” is, according to McComb’s Coach Travel, the top attraction on its Game of Thrones tour, which has brought excited fans from around the world to the show’s key production locations in the North.
Caroline McComb says the family-owned business based in Belfast is set to expand this year thanks to growing demand for the tours.
“We have definitely seen a massive increase in the volume of inquiries and, because of that, we intend from April to start running scheduled Game of Thrones tours three times a week . . . We will be recruiting extra staff and . . . We’ve been in business for 17 years but, without the Game of Thrones being based in Northern Ireland, this is an opportunity that just wouldn’t have happened for us,” says McComb.
She says the bus tours already bring additional business to restaurants, hotels and other service providers in locations featured in the television show.
McComb also believes there is an opportunity to use the Game of Thrones’ cult following to expand further and is working with other local businesses to develop what they have to offer fans of the show who want to visit Northern Ireland and see for themselves where their passion comes to life.
The US cable network giant HBO initially filmed the pilot of the show, which is based on a series of best-selling books by George R R Martin, back in 2009 in the Paint Hall studio in Belfast and other NI locations.
HBO returned to film seasons one to four in the North and it is estimated to date to have generated in the region of £65 million (€78 million) for the local economy.
The TV series, broadcast in more than 70 countries, has also helped make some of the North’s stunning locations featured in the series must-see attractions for dedicated fans.
The highly-anticipated Game of Thrones season four is expected to air in March and, according to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, this could create yet more “set jetting” opportunities in 2014.
Helen Carey of the tourist board says if fans react to series four in the way they did when Belfast hosted its first Game of Thrones exhibition last year the possibilities are limitless.
“We were quite surprised by the response that the exhibition generated – it attracted more than 18,000 visitors over 10 days – from Australia to South America and Europe.
“There is research that suggests one in 10 overseas visitors comes to the UK because of a film or television production and we believe there is great potential for screen tourism,” says Carey.
TV and film fans are “highly motivated” to visit production locations, she says, which the tourist board believes could deliver a significant economic boost for the economy. It is estimated that “set jetting” tourists contribute about £1.8 billion a year to the economy throughout the UK.
Carey believes businesses in the North are keen to harness the opportunities that screen tourism may create.
The tourist board recently organised an insight event in Belfast which attracted more than 160 local businesspeople who heard how films, TV shows and the locations can provide businesses with chances to create tourism experiences for fans.
The tourist board is in discussions with HBO about a number of possibilities including the potential to create Game of Thrones signage for specific locations in the North, Who knows? Perhaps in the future, dedicated Game of Thrones villages will spring to life in celebrated locations.
“What screen tourism also offers is the opportunity to tell a different story about Northern Ireland. It . . . helps people see the North in a completely different light,” she says.
Game of Thrones may be set in the realm of fantasy but its role to date in delivering a major boost for the economy and the potential spin-offs that may come from it are real.