We’ve all heard that old axiom, “Life imitates art.” And further to that, especially lately, vacations imitate the movies. Obviously not down to the plot details—at least not all the time—but more and more, travelers seem to be booking itineraries that take them to James Bond’s London, Twilight’s Washington coast, or the Shire as fabricated in rural New Zealand.
By Lena Katz
Photo Credit: Hobbiton Tours
The Shire, AKA New Zealand
When Peter Jackson decided to film the Lord of the Rings series in New Zealand, viewers became enchanted with the faraway country’s dramatic mountainous beauty. With the Hobbit hitting theaters this holiday season, farms and small towns where the film was shot are already welcoming tourists with open arms—nowhere more than this small private farm that was turned into the Hobbiton set, and decided to keep it that way as a permanent “movie tour” attraction.
Photo Credit: Hobbiton Tours
Twilight | Pacific Northwest and Seattle
The Pacific Northwest has always been vaguely on most people’s travel radar, as a place of rugged beauty and off-the-grid serenity. Thanks to a little yarn called the Twilight Saga, destinations like Forks and La Push have gone decidedly on the grid, with themed tours offering Twi-hards a real-life look at Bella Italia (where Bella and Edward had their first date), the Swan home and the windswept beach of La Push (shown here, appropriately, at twilight).
Photo Credit: Flickr/b gallatin
Life of Pi | Pondicherry
Although (spoiler alert) most of Life of Pi takes place on the open sea and was (double-spoiler alert) brought to the big screen via CGI, the first part of the story unfolds in Pondicherry, India. No organized theme tours are yet being marketed in the West, but Pondicherry tourism professionals are already pointing out notable filming locations that tourists can visit—including temples where the character Pi found religion, and the Botanical Garden where in the story, his family kept a zoo.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Thaths
Bond is GREAT Britain
Great Britain’s most famous fictional spy might criss-cross the world for his sexy super-secret missions, but the UK claims him as their own—and when Skyfall hit theaters in October the UK went “all in” on their 007 bet with a huge movie-related tourism marketing campaign that splashed across billboards, social media, and movie screens in 21 different countries.
Photo Credit: VisitBritain.com
Eat, Pray, Love | Bali
If ever a movie has inspired middle-aged women to cast off their everyday shackles and go journeying in search of enlightenment (and hopefully, smoldering romance with a foreign man), it’s this Julia Roberts vehicle and the memoir that inspired it. Most people don’t have the flexibility to take a year away from “real life” the way the memoir/movie’s main character did, so Eat, Pray, Love themed tours to Bali and India are generally around 10-14 days in length. Interestingly, though it wasn’t in the book, Bhutan seems like the most popular current destination for “enlightenment” tourism, while Italy—the first featured location—didn’t grab onto the marketing hook at all.
Photo Credit: Flickr/naotakem
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel | India
Unlike the movie, which centered around travelers encountering a hotel that didn’t quite live up to its billing, the real-life version of the Best Exotic Marigold focuses on experiences that WILL live up to expectations: Tripolia Bazaar and the flower mart in Jaipur; temple tours and orchard luncheons; and an exotic Mewari luncheon in Udaipur. Greaves Tours, which runs the 10-day program, styles it a “best of India” highlight itinerary with a modern movie twist.
Photo Credit: Greaves Tours
Vertigo and The Birds | San Francisco
Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece thrillers may be outside of Millenials’ cultural radar, but just because folks under 40 haven’t seen the films doesn’t mean they don’t know the landmarks—or can’t appreciate a San Francisco Bay Area tour with moody Hitchcock undertones. The popularity of these classic tours may see a bump due to the Hitchcock biopic hitting theaters December 7, 2012.
Photo Credit: iStockphoto
Midnight in the Garden | Savannah, Georgia
Some Savannah tourism professionals believe the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil helped put the city back on the map after decades of obscurity—with the 1997 feature film release securing its position. Fifteen years later, a myriad of Midnight tours help visitors explore the old Southern city of Savannah through the perspective of one of its steamiest and creepiest real-life mysteries.
Photo Credit: Lori Smaltz/Bonaventure Cemetery Tours
Hunger Games | North Carolina
The next place hoping that movie tourism will rescue distressed areas from a slump is North Carolina, where Hunger Games was filmed. The rural western parts of the state, including DuPont State Recreational Forest, where the gruesome Games took place, expected and received a huge tourism boost following the first Hunger Games film. Since many film locations were private property, some locals decided it was a mixed blessing. Let’s hope they figure out the logistics before the sequel comes out in November, 2013.
Photo Credit: Nolan Jones/DuPont State Forest