Opinion

Have Asian tourism boards been slow to embrace movies as a marketing play?

Anita DuffinIn this guest post, Anita Duffin looks at the rewards tourism bodies in Asia stand to gain from welcoming film productions to their shores.

You’d think it obvious really. But it seems that many tourism bodies have been a little slow in grasping the enormous marketing opportunities that can be afforded by welcoming, and even subsidising, film productions in their country.

New Zealand are the clear winners of maximizing a filming location with The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, tying in their national carrier and tourism commission, which welcomes visitors to ‘Middle Earth’. Sheer genius.

So why aren’t more countries doing the same?

The BeachFilms inspire travel to the location in which they’re filmed; this isn’t new and the stats are out there for everyone to see. Braveheart was credited with a 300 per cent increase in visitation to Scotland in 2010, and Leonardo di Caprio’s The Beach saw a 22 per cent increase in youth market visits to Thailand. There are similar stories everywhere, but what seems to be missing is the participation of tourism bodies and airlines to maximise these opportunities.

Tourism in Asia is growing rapidly right now, and all indications are that it will continue to do so. This year sees Asia with the largest orders of new aircraft and the highest number of budget airlines in the world.

Which means both domestic and international visitation will continue to rise and fares will continue to fall. It’s even more vital that countries in Asia differentiate themselves and film-induced tourism provides the perfect, and one would think fairly easy, opportunity to do just that.

It goes beyond providing a beautiful backdrop. Tourism bodies need to attract film-makers with tax relief and the financial sense for an entire production to select their country as a location. This involves a range of businesses with hotels, transport, translators and a whole lot more. Governments need to provide the entire package to lure production companies because quite clearly, Asia has a diverse array of locations that could suit a multitude of film themes. That’s where this kind of differentiation can pay off.

The business of promoting a film upon release is probably one of the biggest PR exercises in any industry. What better way to market your destination? Actor Chris Hemsworth (Thor) recently wrapped filming of Michael Mann’s (Miami Vice, Public Enemy, Last of the Mohicans) CYBER in Jakarta. What followed was a deluge of personal praise in the media for both Jakarta and Indonesia from Hemsworth and Mann, who actually selected a different location for the film before visiting Jakarta, and promptly changed the script to suit.

Eat, Pray, LoveTo her credit, Indonesia’s Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy, Mari Pangestu, has been rallying Hollywood to film in Indonesia, frequently participating in film festivals in the US. The Eat, Pray, Love phenomenon is still returning dividends in Bali with tourist visitation at an all-time high. In the Philippines, Senator Grace Poe is very publicly pushing a bill for more funding and support to promote film-induced tourism to the country. Singapore, too, has jumped on board, with an initiative to subsidise international film productions by 50 per cent.

Malaysia has gone as far as building their own state-of-the-art studios in Johor (Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios), now the region’s largest independent integrated studio facility. The studios have been conducting film crew training to promote local talent, and expect to entice many international productions with the support of the government’s Film in Malaysia Incentive, which offers cash rebates to both local and foreign productions.

Film-induced tourism is a potential goldmine for destination marketers. Research at Wego.com showed us just how much movies can influence someone’s perception of a country. We asked Australians what their dream Christmas destination would be, and around 30 percent of those polled selected the traditional Christmas romance of Europe, with half of those citing New York, specifically quoting films with themes that reflect the city in a festive, romantic light.

Popular culture is a golden key for destination marketers. South Korea can certainly attest to that as K-Pop wielded a powerful promotional sword through any prior marketing strategy. Dedicated fans in China, Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea who are avid consumers of film and television are said to be an entirely new market opportunity for film based locations in the future, especially with current economic growth and mobile bookings on the increase.

Film clearly provides a stronger insight into a country when delivered on the big screen accompanied by ambient music and a famous face that highlight culturally significant features of a destination; the all-important emotional connection which advertisers, PRs and marketers continually pursue is served up on a 35mm plate.

Plant a seed in a motivated and connected audience who are hungry for new travel experiences and destinations, and you’ll be collecting an effectiveness award before long.

Anita Duffin is director of public relations at travel site Wego.com. She is based in Indonesia.

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