Last year, a 24-year-old Chinese woman Lu Yingying spent 17 days travelling in Croatia, Spain, and northern Ireland. In the future, she hopes to visit Iceland, Malta and Morocco. Her choice of destinations is not random. All of the places on her wishlist have one thing in common: they have all provided locations for the hit television drama Game of Thrones (GoT).
Yingying isn’t alone. There are thousands of fans like her who have made it a mission to visit every possible GoT location. So much so that the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, which is King’s Landing in the televised serial, will crack down on the number of tourists who can visit the place. Designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) in 1979, Dubrovnik—known as the Pearl of the Adriatic—has increasingly seen hotels pop up and cruise lines make stops in the scenic city.
The mayor of Dubrovnik is now set to cap the number of people who can visit each day at just 4,000, which is half of Unesco’s recommendation. That’s because the pedestrian-only medieval section gets overcrowded with visitors. And while the restriction could mean decreasing tourist revenue for Dubrovnik, that might be the best solution for the long term, feel experts.
Season seven, which culminated last Sunday, has promoted once-little-known parts of Europe into must-see destinations.
It’s easy to see why people are flocking to Dubrovnik, which has beautiful weather for most part of the year, a stunning coastline along the Adriatic Sea and, of course, there is the GoT appeal. Dubrovnik has been heavily featured throughout the show’s seven seasons, serving as the setting of King’s Landing, the capital city where the titular Iron Throne sits. As per reports, the popularity of GoT was responsible for 10% of the annual growth in tourism in Dubrovnik. The GoT-inspired tourism helped pull Croatia out of a tough recession that lasted from 2009 to 2014.
Northern Ireland, too, has become an important location for the adaptation of George RR Martin’s fantasy books. So valuable is the series to the economy that the tourist board has a section of its website dedicated to it. The country’s tourism department has collaborated with HBO for the past four years on projects ranging from a tour of key locations to last year’s Doors of Thrones project, which won gold and silver Lions in Cannes 2017.
Several entrepreneurs are cashing in on the craze for people to explore the locations of this show. A case in point is Stephen Gray, a northern Irish entrepreneur, who noticed a dozen GoT fans, wearing helmets with torches, making their way in the darkness of a winter’s night along the road known as the Dark Hedges. The idea to buy a hotel and golf resort struck him immediately. Northern Ireland Screen, which helps fund the filming of GoT at Titanic Studios in Belfast’s docklands and at various locations around the region, has estimated that the fantasy drama pumped £150 million into the local economy up to 2016.
Then there is the case of Iceland. A decade ago, Iceland was northern Europe’s basket case, teetering on the edge of economic ruin when its three largest banks failed and its stock market lost 80% of its value overnight. But in 2017, the tiny nation has turned that chaos into a success story—helped, in no small way, by the hit HBO TV series. Iceland has seen consistent, strong growth in its tourism industry, which has turbo-charged the economy and offset poor performance in other sectors, analysts say. Many of those tourists first glimpsed Iceland’s scenery as backdrops in the fantasy series, the eighth series of which is expected in 2018. The Game of Thrones films in locations such as Lake Mývatn in the north of the country, which is the land beyond The Wall in the show.
In Spain, where the fifth season was shot, it led to more than 500 locals from around the town in Osuna being employed as extras to work in the show. They were paid $65 a day, a big boost to the city, which had an unemployment rate of 34.5%, the highest in the country. And according to reports, over the course of the 12 months following the shoot, the number of tourists skyrocketed by 70%, and again by 35% in the second year. But just as much of a blessing is increased footfalls, the damage it is imparting on the ecology isn’t lost on the residents.
A petition has been launched in response to growing concerns over the future of the Dark Hedges in northern Ireland. The petition that has attracted more than two-and-a-half-thousand signatures intends to put pressure on the authorities to halt what many claim as the systematic destruction of the 300-year-old beech trees, which have become a famous landmark. Recent heavy downpour caused flooding in the area and the road surface has begun to crack under the constant pressure of coaches and other large vehicles. Concern is mounting that if something is not done, the roots of the trees will give way and the road will have to be closed in the interest of public safety.