Each day, hundreds of commuters board the London Underground en route to King's Cross Station. Once there, they make their way across the platforms, not in an attempt to board a connecting train, but rather to visit a pop culture landmark: Platform 9 ¾.
For those who didn’t grow up with their noses stuck inside a Harry Potter book, Platform 9 ¾ is a fictional train platform where Harry and his friends would board the Hogwarts Express at the beginning of each school year. In the story, the wizards would wait until there were no Muggles (non-magic folk) around and then disappear through a brick wall in between Platforms 9 and 10 to access the hidden station. In reality, Platform 9 ¾ is just a brick wall at King’s Cross Station, adorned with a metal plaque and half a trolley stuck into the wall. The photo op is a hotspot for tourists, who traverse the city just to capture the perfect picture for social media.
The U.K. has long been a popular destination for Potterheads, drawn to London to experience “a day of wizarding fun” at the Harry Potter Studies, or up into Scotland to witness the Jacobite Steam Train (otherwise known as the Hogwarts Express) cross over the Glenfinnan Viaduct - a familiar scene to any who have watched the films.
Home to The Elephant House, the very same cafe where J.K. Rowling spent hours penning the now-famous fantasy series, the city of Edinburgh embraces its reputation as the birthplace of Harry Potter. They welcome Potter fans with open arms and host guided tours of nearby Potter landmarks, including the graveyard where “Tom Riddle” is buried and the University of Edinburgh, which is rumored to have inspired Hogwarts.
Similarly, Croatia and Northern Ireland have both seen in influx of travelers following the success of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Even after the culmination of the hit series, fans still go to great lengths to visit obscure filming locations throughout Europe. The city of Dubrovnik, a small city on Croatia’s Adriatic coast which served as the main set for King's Landing, has actually seen such intense levels of tourism that city officials are worried about possible overcrowding. Franchise fans are flooding the city’s landmarks, looking to recreate their favorite moments from the show. And beginning next year, these visitors are likely to make their way to Belfast, Northern Ireland, as it’s set to become home to a Game of Thrones studio experience in 2020.
Stateside, DMOs such as Visit Albuquerque are also experiencing the effects pop culture tourism. Home to hit series “Breaking Bad,” Albuquerque’s tourism market is booming with visitors seeking to experience the show in real life. The DMO has leaned into the trend, adding pages to their site detailing popular filming locations within the city.
Even some of the world’s most popular destinations have capitalized on film fandoms, as NYCgo has done with their guided tours and content geared towards fans of TV shows like Sex and the City, Seinfield and Friends - just to name a few.
But the trend doesn’t stop with film and television. Pop stars have also been known to drive tourism, simply by mentioning cities in their song lyrics or choosing destinations as filming locations for music videos. The latter was true for Justin Bieber, whose “I’ll Show You” visual contributed to a 20-percent spike in Icelandic tourism.
Speaking to Bieber’s influence on the destination, Inga Palsdottir, director of the national tourism agency Visit Iceland, told the Associated Press: “Then someone decided to dance on it and now it’s one of the most popular places in the country.” In fact, the video inspired so many visits to Iceland’s Fjadrárgljúfur canyon that the Environment Agency of Iceland temporarily closed the canyon to visitors in order to protect the vegetation within.
And that’s the other side of the coin. For many destinations, serving as the backdrop for an A-list music video or the next hits series would drive a welcome increase in tourism. But for some, the ensuing overcrowding might be too much to handle.
Has your destination experienced increased tourism due to a pop culture moment? If so, how have you embraced the movement? We’d love to hear from you!