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Lord of the Rings TV show sets the stage for precious tourism opportunity

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

With Amazon’s production of a new Lord of the Rings show taking place in New Zealand, film tourism expert Stefan Roesch urges the industry to take immediate action to make the most of the tourism opportunity for New Zealand.

It’s been nearly twenty years since Peter Jackson’s epic The Lord of the Rings hit the silver screen.

From an outsider’s perspective, it might seem that in the past the tourism industry has done everything to maximise the opportunities of Tolkien tourism.

According to Tourism New Zealand, 14 percent of international visitors partake in a Middle Earth-related experience. And a simple Google search lists more than a dozen tour operators that still take visitors to the many film locations spread over both islands.

Although this sounds good on paper, Roesch insists a lot more can be done to build a sustainable film-tourism economy.

That’s where Roesch’s startup company comes in.

Being an avid film fan himself, Roesch felt the need to provide fans with a more immersive location experience which is why he recently founded FilmQuest.

"The idea behind FilmQuest is to combine trip inspiration around iconic film locations. These are provided through our website with an app that takes fans to the exact filming sites where they can relive the scenes from their beloved movie or TV show through augmented reality."

While the website is already up and running, the app is in its early development stage. But, Roesch is confident.

"There are 80 million film location tourists out there. The market is hungry for a product like ours."

Backing up that confidence, Wintec-based business incubator Soda Inc. recently dubbed FilmQuest as ‘one of the most promising startups to keep an eye on in 2020.’

Roesch, who graduated with a PhD in film tourism from the University of Otago and has consulted many destinations around the world on this topic said Tourism New Zealand has done a great job marketing New Zealand as the home of Middle Earth.

"When you take a closer look at New Zealand it becomes quite clear that many Middle Earth fans on the ground are missing out. Other destinations are leading the way now. Take Northern Ireland, for instance.

"Ever since HBO decided to base its production of Game of Thrones in Belfast, the country has become a hotspot for fans of the cult series."

Tourism Ireland has estimated that every sixth leisure visitor is attracted to Northern Ireland because of the show.

However, in Northern Ireland the national tourism body has implemented a strategy that focuses on film tourism experiences, rather than broad promotional messages.

"When I was asked by Tourism Northern Ireland to help them take Game of Thrones tourism to the next level, my first advice was to incorporate the perspective of the fans. And the fans want to compare fantasy with reality - meaning they want to compare how the location looks like in real life with the way it was portrayed on screen."

As a result, authorities have installed photo boards at around 20 locations which show the key scenes filmed at each of the sites. Tour operators all over the county have heavily invested in their products, from fully costumed location tours and themed banquets to archery lessons.

Northern Ireland Screen also developed an HBO-endorsed location app which helps fans to find the exact filming sites.

And the cooperation between the official stakeholders and the studio continues. In 2020, HBO will open a studio tour, which is only the first of several other Game of Thrones attractions to follow over the next few years.

With Amazon’s production of a new Lord of the Rings show taking place in New Zealand, this country has a golden opportunity to reinvent film tourism, but some bold decisions will be needed to make this happen.

Roesch insists "we need to make sure that when we promise a trip to Middle Earth, the industry can deliver on many different levels. Research shows that film tourists spend more time and money in a destination".

"This is exactly the kind of visitor we want, but we need a lot more immediate investment into new attractions such as a movie museum or more film sets such as Hobbiton to ensure that we can compete with the likes of Northern Ireland in the future".

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