B.C. missing tourism potential of film industry

Eugene Thomlinson

Match the places to these film names: Lord of the Rings, Mamma Mia and X-Men. If you immediately thought of New Zealand, Greece and Royal Roads University in Victoria, then you understand how powerful a movie setting can be.

A TV show or feature film can be like a lengthy infomercial, with the ability to shape the way you think and feel about a place. Viewers are drawn to the locations just as they are attracted by the exciting storylines and incredible views. And many are compelled to take their holidays in places they have seen on the big or little screen.

The impact of film-induced tourism is a crucial aspect that has been left out of the debate over investments in the B.C. film industry, such as tax credits.

Film-induced tourism is the broad term used to describe not only trips to sites and regions made famous by TV and film, but also visits to production studios and film-related parks.

Politicians are arguing over how much investment is necessary to ensure the B.C. film industry is competitive with other provinces and many U.S. states that are using tax incentives to attract new business. The B.C. New Democrats propose to increase the current 33 per cent credit for foreign producers to 40 per cent if elected. Others say it doesn’t make sense.

But the issue needs to be viewed through a wide-angle lens and not a pinhole. When we invest in the film industry in B.C., it not only supports the thousands of jobs in the $1.2-billion film sector. Around the globe, there is a growing understanding that tourism can benefit from movie-making.

Destinations are enjoying the benefits of film-induced tourism through blockbusters (Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings), romantic films (Notting Hill), musicals (Mama Mia), TV dramas (Downton Abbey and Neighbours) and food shows (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Man v. Food).

Regions are seeing that tax credits and investment in the film industry bring benefits for many other industries including tourism, infrastructure, education and the environment. Recent studies provide a glimpse of film-induced tourism’s potential. In 2009, about 10 per cent of tourism trips to the U.K. were seen as associated with film tourism, contributing around $3 billion in visitor spending.

In a 2012 study in Florida, film was conservatively calculated to bring in more than four million visitors with direct revenue of more than $4.6 billion. The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau determined that TV productions in 2011-12 resulted in more than $400 million in promotional value. About 11 per cent of visitors to Florida are believed to be attracted by film and television.

Several high-profile destinations make use of film for their tourism industries, most notably the U.K., the U.S., South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The VisitBritain marketing portfolio invites you to “live like James Bond” or take London’s “Platform 93Ú4” to Harry Potter’s world.

New Zealand’s tourism ministry has been even more active in harnessing the power of film. From movies like The Piano and Whale Rider, to the current runs of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, New Zealand’s image has been delivered to an international audience. Today, through New Zealand Tourism, people can “journey through Middle Earth” or “follow the footsteps of The Amazing Race.”

B.C. has some home-grown examples of destinations proactively working with the film industry. The Thompson-Nicola Film Commission in southern B.C., led by its executive director Victoria Weller, not only attracts film productions to the region, but combines filming and tourism through such initiatives as creating geocaches and developing a mobile movie map showing film locations. Many of the local communities and tourism agencies have jumped on board to support film-induced tourism.

For B.C.’s ailing tourism industry, film-induced tourism could make the difference between growth and stagnation. While tourism is already worth more than $6 billion a year, or four per cent of the provincial economy, the industry has been suffering in the last decade.

B.C. has the film industry. We’ve got the beautiful scenery. We’ve got the tourism industry looking for new opportunities. Provincial investment in the film industry at a competitive level is one idea that deserves a second viewing.

Eugene Thomlinson is an assistant professor in the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Royal Roads University.

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