Carol Cat first discovered True Blood in 2008, when a friend gave her a VHS tape of HBO's popular Southern-accented vampire series. "I didn't usually watch TV back then," Carol tells Refinery29. "But one night I popped in the tape and within five minutes I was hooked. That song! And that intro! I loved the premise and the setting and the characters and everything! I was instantly addicted."
This new obsession with True Blood led Carol, a resident of Toronto, to research its filming locations and put "visit the real-life Fangtastia," a bar the series' vampires frequent, on her bucket list. In 2014, she was finally able to get to the spot in Long Beach, California (a stand-in for the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana). "It was pretty much perfect," she says. "For that brief time, I got to literally, actually exist in the same place that my favuorite characters had. For those moments, Fangtasia wasn't an imaginary place on a TV show, it was a brick and mortar reality and I was in it!"
Carol isn't the only fan to fall in love with a television series and then make a set pilgrimage. According to a 2015 TripAdvisor study, one in five global travellers said they had visited a destination because they saw it on a TV show. In March of this year, Klook, a Singapore-based tourism booking website, compared pageviews between January 2018 and January 2019 and found that TV and movie-inspired activities have increased almost 300% year over year for travellers from the United States. What exactly is fuelling this trend?
"The idea of travelling to a destination that you saw on screen isn't necessarily a new one," Ian Jeffries, senior vice president of travel & tourism for Edelman, tells Refinery29. However, he says the pastime has evolved. "If you consider the ability to binge-watch a show on your own terms combined with the fact that you're also able to follow a lot of the talent on Instagram or even production assistants, you really can form more of a bond with the show," Jeffries says. "You're able to follow along with some of the cast as they're filming. You're able to, in some cases, interact — comment and get comments back — so it's only a natural progression that you would want to go and see some of these destinations on your own."
Brian Tan, CEO of Zicasso, a company that connects luxury travellers with travel specialists, agrees. "With the growth of streaming services and the increasing popularity of extended dramas as opposed to self-contained movies, people have become much more enthralled with their entertainment sources," he tells Refinery29.
Much like True Blood tourist Carol, binge-watching and repeat viewings motivated Paméla Rougerie (of Paris) to visit Glasgow, the setting of the sitcom Lovesick, back in May 2018. "I first watched Lovesick when I was a student, four years ago," Paméla explains. "I recently rewatched it with a friend, and that made me love it even more, as we saw more of ourselves and our friends in the characters who are young professionals feeling a bit lost in their career paths and love lives...What I got from this [trip] was a sense of adventure with a hint of familiarity," she explains. "I was travelling on my own to a place that I had never known, but I wasn't scared of it thanks to the show."
Likewise, Paige Froelke and her boyfriend recently travelled (from West Hollywood) to Northern Ireland to see locations where Game of Thrones was filmed, and they turned to technology to plan the trip. "We found an app that had directions to all of the Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland, so we rented a car and drove around the entire countryside," she tells Refinery29. Thanks to that free app, Game of Thrones Locations NI, the couple was able to visit 18 filming spots including Rob Stark's Camp, The Dark Hedges, The Iron Islands, The Land's Around Winterfell, The Stormlands, The Dothraki Grasslands, and Winterfell. "It was crazy to see the filming locations of a show that pretty much took the world by storm, especially since the series just ended," she says of the experience.
Game of Thrones, of course, is an ideal show for inspiring wanderlust. One of the most popular shows of all time, it has a highly engaged, global fanbase, and was shot at stunning, exotic locations around the world. With gnarled forests in Northern Ireland, vast glaciers in Iceland, and ancient medieval fortresses in Croatia, GoT's locations are the antithesis of the cheap studio-sets-only of TV in the 1950s and 60s and even the exterior shots of the 1970s and 80s. Funnily enough, the first explosion of TV tourism began in the late 1990s and early aughts thanks to an earlier, much different HBO phenom, Sex and the City.
Georgette Blau, who in 1999 founded On Location Tours, one of the very first tour companies to concentrate solely on television tours, tells Refinery29, "In the 90s, you have shows like Sex and the City using all of these restaurants and boutiques and bars and store and even some homes. That was one of the shows that really started to use the city. That use of locations outside of a studio continues for many productions to this day. "Globally, a lot of productions are going out," Blau explains. "They're finding it less expensive to leave the studios and go set up shop wherever for filming, and they don't have to build out a set. The set is just there for them. They just have to pay the location."
Tan says that Zicasso, which offers a Downton Abbey-themed tour in the English countryside and a Game of Thrones Itinerary in Croatia, chose those shows in particular because of their wide appeal and spectacular filming locations. Blau, too, tells us that one of the main things they consider when putting together an On Location tour is how interesting and unique the actual sites are. "We have our Gossip Girl tour where there are a bunch of mums who have not seen the show, but they love the locations, so that's really key," she says. This also allows tourists to see a different side of the place they're visiting. "They get to see off-the-beaten-path areas of the cities because filming doesn't necessarily happen in the main tourist areas," Blau shares.
Such voyages can also bring you closer to fellow fans. Blau says that many who take her On Locations tours end up having a meaningful, shared experience with likeminded people — like a compressed, cosplay-less version of the FanCon experience.
As the TV-themed trip trend grows in popularity, tourism companies are catching on. Brands like Hilton are publishing content that highlights properties near filming locations and tourism sites for many destinations are also putting together their own TV-themed tours. Visit Scotland's official website has an interactive map that shows locations from Outlander and SeeMonterey.com offers a guide to all things Big Little Lies. As many travellers experience TV-themed holidays that turn out to be trips of a lifetime, travelling to a spot you saw on a TV show could become the norm. Paige, who along with her boyfriend has so far visited Game Of Thrones sites in Croatia and Northern Ireland, is one of the many fans who has bought into the TV tourism trend big time. She tells us, "We're already planning our next trip to Iceland to see more of the Game of Thrones filming locations and take in some more natural beauty the world has to offer."