From experiencing the elite English aesthetics of Downton Abbey to hanging out in Hobbiton, set-jetting – that’s visiting locations popular with film-makers – can inject a little movie magic into any trip.

Imagine having your Saturday afternoon interrupted by a knock on the door, only to find a film location scout asking if it’s ok to recreate one of the best selling books of all time, right here on your modest sheep farm.

That’s exactly what happened to the Alexander family and they agreed to transform their land near Matamata, New Zealand, into the Shire for The Lord Of The Rings film trilogy – a decision that resulted in one of the country’s top tourist attractions.

As a result, New Zealand has successfully marketed itself as ‘the home of Middle-Earth’ for the last 15 years, with nearly one in five visitors citing J.R.R. Tolkien’s creation as influencing their interest in the country. And there’s no sign of these numbers dipping.

Like many tourists before me, I can’t resist the chance to recreate the perilous journey trod by Frodo and Samwise. As we wind through New Zealand’s famous rolling green hills, at some point we leave reality behind and enter the fantasy world of Hobbiton, brought to life with child-sized round doors peaking from beneath perfectly preened grass mounds, and picket fences hiding manicured vegetable patches. It’s quaint, cute and exactly like the film.

Pip Casey, Regional Manager UK & Europe for Tourism New Zealand says: “The legacy of Middle-Earth continues to impact New Zealand’s tourism industry to this day, eighteen years after the first of Sir Peter Jackson’s films was released. The films brought New Zealand’s stunning landscapes to big screens, along with a setting unlike anywhere else in the world!”

Magic of the movies

New Zealand’s not the only destination to cash in on its big screen debuts. Set-jetting – which sees people visiting the set of their favourite movie or TV show – is a top travel trend and a great selling hook for agents.

“We’ve definitely witnessed an increase in enquiries about visiting film and TV locations.” Says Hannah Marwood, Senior Land Product Trading Executive at STA Travel. “I think this is because the quality of movies and TV now means that destinations can be showcased like never before. This inspires people to travel to destinations that they may not have considered in the past.”

A recent study from Travelzoo revealed that film-related tourism in the UK alone amounted to £600 million in 2016.

The growing popularity of shows such as Poldark, Peaky Blinders, Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones is causing a welcomed boost in UK visitor figures as well as inbound income. The survey found that in 2018, one in six holidaymakers were influenced to visit Northern Ireland because of Game of Thrones.

In the same year, Visit Cornwall noted that Poldark brought an estimated 14% of visitors to the area. The West Midlands attracted a record 1.8 million visitors between January and September, 2017 (the period between seasons three and four of Peaky Blinders).

Marwood adds: “We find that it’s a great way to engage with our customer base. TV series and movies can be hugely successful and take on a cult following, especially with young people, so it’s an exciting opportunity you don’t want to miss out on.”

Tour operators are capitalising on this pique in interest by packaging tours and themed experiences.

Shearings Holidays has a five-day ‘Highclere – Home of Downton Abbey’ coach tour for 2020, on the back of the Downton Abbey film, released in September.

Jane Atkins, Managing Director at Shearings Holidays comments: “We all know the power that film locations can have on driving holiday demand. Downton Abbey is such a popular show with customers of all ages. I have no doubt the new film will drive interest in visiting Highclere. On our tour the tickets are pre-booked and all of the arrangements are made for guests.”

Gary Clark, Assistant Product and Commercial Manager: Touring Australasia, Travel 2, says that nostalgia has a big part to play in the set-jetting trend, saying: “Movie themed tours can certainly encourage bookings for specific destinations, as guests are eager to experience the story for themselves and evoke those same emotions.”

Travel 2’s New Zealand-based movie tour includes a visit to Wellington’s Weta Workshop, going behind-the-scenes to meet the designers and craftsmen responsible for props and costumes in movies like The Hobbit, District 9 and Thunderbirds Are Go.

Malta is also a favourite of film-makers and The Malta Tourism Authority has released a map of the islands which pinpoints filming locations for Gladiator, The Count of Monte Cristo, Troy, Captain Phillips and many other films. Iceland is selling itself as the inspiration for Disney’s Frozen 2, highlighting the geysers, black-sand beaches, volcanoes and waterfalls which apparently inspired the makers of the animation sequel.

Top locations

Northern Ireland – Game Of Thrones: Ireland’s dramatic coastline played host to some of the most famous Game of Thrones locations, from the Battle of the Blackwater to the Iron Islands. Clients can try their hand at archery at Strangford Lough, better known by GOT fans as Winterfell, drive the Causeway Coast, the backdrop for many a bloody scene, and visit the spooky Dark Hedges Road which doubled as the Kings Road in the show.

Georgia, U.S – Stranger Things: The hit series was shot in and around Atlanta, meaning fans of the show can get their Americana fix of small-town 1980s. Picture opportunities include the Hawkins National Laboratory (a former psychiatric hospital), the neon palace arcade and a spooky Hawkins Library.

North Carolina – Dirty Dancing: Until recently North Carolina was a big hit when it came to film locations. Along with blockbusters such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and The Hunger Games, it’s famously the home of ‘that’ lift in the romantic comedy classic, Dirty Dancing. Johnny and Baby created the movie magic in Lake Lure in the foothills of North Carolina and the Lake Lure Inn Resort & Spa hosts an annual Dirty Dancing festival.

Jordan – Star Wars: Location scouts have been drawn to the burnt-coloured sands and lunar-like sandstone formations of Wadi Rum for blockbusters such as The Martian, Laurance of Arabia, Aladdin and most recently Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Due for release December 2019, the famous desert landscape will once again feature in the latest and last film in this Star Wars trilogy.

Italy – No Time To Die: Filming for the 25th installment of the James Bond franchise, the fifth and final for Daniel Craig, took place throughout 2019. Scouts chose Matera in the South of Italy, this year’s European capital of culture, for the iconic Aston Martin car chase scenes. The neighbouring region of Puglia, with its iconic Trulli huts, is also said to feature in the film, expected for release in April 2020.

Where to book it

Travel 2 has a nine-day North Island Movie Experience includes three-nights in Auckland, with a trip to Hobbiton, two nights in Rotorua and three nights in Wellington, visiting the location for the Gardens of Isengard, From £1,899pp, the price includes all flights and guided touring.