Kong: Skull Island marks the beginning of a new era for Vietnam as a location to shoot films. More film production teams will be coming to the country in the coming years, and this may have an indirect positive impact on Vietnam tourism. In this article, Josh Zukas explores foreign cases of film-induced tourism – where people feel compelled to visit a country because of a film they’ve seen – and the effect it has had on their respective tourism industries.

After a few false starts and missed opportunities, the otherworldly landscapes of Vietnam have finally made it to the big screen. Kong: Skull Island smashed box office records in Vietnam while drawing respectable crowds in other parts of the world. Many millions were treated to spectacular footage of Quang Ninh, Ninh Binh, and Quang Binh, where around 70% of the film was shot.

Kong: Skull Island marks a new opportunity for Vietnam tourism. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director of the film, has relocated to Ho Chi Minh City and has become Vietnam’s tourism ambassador. Hollywood has seen what the country can offer, while rumors are circulating that Vietnam is being considered for the Avatar, Jurassic World, and Star Trek sequels. Also important, Vogt-Roberts has predicted a rise in quality and quantity of locally produced films.

Director of Kong: Skull Island talks about Vietnam’s film future (Credit: VnExpress)

Though reasonably well-received, Kong: Skull Island isn’t the box office miracle with the power to transform Vietnam tourism. But now Vietnam is on the radar as a felicitous destination to shoot eye-catching films, a big blockbuster ground-breaking enough to have a lasting impact on tourism may be just around the corner.

Film-induced tourism can bring huge benefits, but only when the image sent out through the movie is consistent with the destination image.

However, it isn’t a case of simply waiting for the films to happen and then cashing in on the rewards: the authorities and industry players will need to successfully align Vietnam’s international image with future popular films. Studies show that film-induced tourism can bring huge benefits, but only when the image sent out through the movie is consistent with the destination image. Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) and tour operators also need to make sure they are sending out the right message when utilizing films to attract visitors.

Alarm bells were set off soon after the film’s release when the culture ministry proposed a statue of King Kong near Hoan Kiem Lake. Fortunately, Hanoi’s Cultural Department quickly rejected the idea, with the organization’s vice director stating that a statue would be “inappropriate.”  King Kong has nothing to do with Hanoi, and erecting a statue there would have sent the wrong message.

Many countries, destinations, and sites have seen the advantages of film-induced tourism, and Vietnam would do well to learn from these case studies. A shining example of film-induced tourism, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (LOTR) has had lasting benefits for tourism in New Zealand due to the way the tourism authorities aligned the rugged landscapes of the country with the mythological land of Middle-earth.

New Zealand incorporated the trilogy into their existing brand to launch its 100% Middle-earth, 100% Pure New Zealand campaign. International visitor numbers grew by 52% between 1998 and 2008 (the LOTR trilogy was released between 2001 and 2003) and it is assumed that the popularity of the films contributed to this increase.

100% Middle-earth, 100% Pure New Zealand (Credit: YouTube)

In 2004, the year following the release of the final LOTR film, an international visitor survey revealed that 6% of visitors cite LOTR as being one of the main reasons for visiting. That 6% related to approximately US$140 million. A decade after the release of the trilogy and the campaign was still active, while the official tourism website for New Zealand still refers to the country as the “Home of Middle-earth.”

To cite a different example, Lost in Thailand, a Chinese film released in 2012, had huge impact on Thailand tourism. The number of Chinese tourists to Thailand doubled from 1.7 million in 2011 to 3.5 million in 2013, and the film is considered a major factor in accounting for the increase.

Lost in Thailand Trailer (Credit: YouTube)

The film, which is one of the most profitable in Chinese cinema history, shows tropical markets, lush jungles, Thai massage, and Muay Thai – elements that are in keeping with the message of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). Astute local tour operators have benefited, particularly in Chiang Mai where much of the film was shot, by arranging tours led by Chinese-speaking guides that take in different scenes from the film.

Individual sites and cities can also benefit from film-induced tourism. Many of the locations in England where the Harry Potter series was filmed saw a 50% or more rise in visitor numbers. Canakkale in Turkey, near the ruins of ancient Troy, saw a 73% rise in visitor numbers after the release of the 2004 film, Troy. The Wallace Monument in Scotland saw a 300% increase in visitor numbers after the release of Braveheart.

For Vietnam to take advantage of any future exposure, there must be comprehensive links between any future film and the locations. In LOTR, we saw films that were set in Middle-earth but filmed in New Zealand, and the tourism board effectively connected Tolkien’s fantasy world with the country’s spectacular landscapes. Lost in Thailand was a film both set and filmed in contemporary Thailand, and tour agencies took the opportunity to provide Chinese-orientated tours that explored the same bustling markets and charming cityscapes that were displayed in the film.

For Vietnam to take advantage of any future exposure, there must be comprehensive links between any future film and the locations.

Unlike the two examples above, Kong: Skull Island will be remembered as a good blockbuster but an unexceptional film. The film won’t bring lasting benefits to the tourism industry like in Thailand or New Zealand. But if Vietnam can learn to harness its time in the spotlight from future productions, the tourism industry will surely reap the rewards.

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