Tourists Are Coming: The Rise of Game of Thrones Tourism in Belfast

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever wanted to step foot into a world of fantasy and adventure? Well for £40 you can in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Ever since the massive HBO hit Game of Thrones began airing in 2011, tour companies and solo adventurers have been exploring the filming locations that bring the fantasy series to life.

Game of Thrones films at the Belfast Titanic studios as well as scenic locations around Northern Ireland. The main production team for the series is based in Belfast.

Fiona Liversidge, Communications Executive for Visit Belfast said tourism in Belfast has developed in an overall upward momentum from 1999 onwards as the result of a combination of factors, including the Game of Thrones phenomena.

Through guided tours in Belfast and surrounding areas, fans can be transported into the Game of Thrones world of Westeros.

Titanic Studios in Belfast. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The new breed of media tourism which dates back to works such as Sherlock Holmes, and was popularized with The Lord of the Rings, and its world of Middle Earth in New Zealand, has paved the way for a renewed interest in Belfast and its surrounding areas.

Lecturer in Journalism, Media and Communications at the University of Tasmania, Dr. Craig Norris discusses the phenomenon of media tourism and how it gives prominence to new locations.

“Media tourism demonstrates the power of narratives, storytelling to act as scaffolds to generally help people in their life. It is a really exciting example of how tourists are not simply powerless zombie-like photographers that go to a location and take a lot of photos…they are engaging on another level.”

Tour guide and office manager for Game of Thrones Tours in Belfast, Dorothy Nealon, states that the show has had a significant impact on Northern Ireland’s economy.

”Directly, through the show sourcing local people to fill the various roles and requirements for the TV series. Then, indirectly, through people coming to visit the filming locations. In 2013 it was estimated by Screen Northern Ireland that £65 million had been invested in the economy as a result of the show.”

Game of Thrones Tours operate guided tours of filming locations around Northern Ireland and also offers fans the chance to dress up and interact as characters from the series.

“During 2016 we brought almost 20,000 people to visit Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland” Nealon said.

However, media tourism is not necessarily always a positive thing for a region, as Dr. Craig Norris explains.

“There are locations like Doc Martin where there are problems with the influx of tourists.The people who live there have been complaining that it is causing too much congestion into a small area. It can’t really cope with the influx of tourists. The very popularity of a TV show can ironically destroy the pleasure of an area.”

Similar impacts have occurred in Iceland with the influx of tourists as a result of Game of Thrones which has seen a rising popularity around Europe with tours also running out of Malta and Croatia. Although Dr. Norris warns of the troubles with media tourism, he remains optimistic of its value to society.

“Not all the stakeholders in media tourism will be doing it out of fun and will be there purely for commercial needs. However, as long as they understand the type of relationship they are entering into with the tourists, and they are respectful of the tourists engagements, such as allowing those fans to tell their own stories, and they don’t censor it…it can be powerful.”

Dorothy Nealon agrees that media tourism has a strong future. “We believe our tours will be busier than ever once the show has finished as fans of the show seek their Game of Thrones fix.”  

Northern Ireland has been the filming location for a number of television series and movies recently, most notably Star Wars Episode VII and Episode VIII which will premiere this year.

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