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Screen Tourism In Croatia – Learning How To Reap The Benefits

by Anna Tucker

While a recent presentation at the Croatian Parliament aimed at introducing the concept of Screen Tourism as a highly lucrative stream of revenue for a participating country, in real life Croatia, yet again, things aren’t waiting for a policy change to move forward.

As Croatia Week already reported, Dubrovnik took over the lead as the no. 1 movie landscape worth visiting, overthrowing Shawshank Prison in Ohio, US & Hobbiton of The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand.

To those who are interested in looking beyond the mere phenomenon of Croatia beating New Zealand in a rather peculiar category, this fact also reveals a far more exciting prospect for the Croatian national vaults. And if Croatia’s rival New Zealand is to be looked at as an example, the potential that lies in this form of country branding is rather amazing.

According to the NZ Herald, the National-led Government controversially changed employment laws and granted tax breaks amounting to $67 million to Warner Brothers in 2010 after director Sir Peter Jackson warned that The Hobbit franchise could be moved to countries where it was cheaper to film. Eastern Europe was among the region that was initially considered. ANZ- National estimated that the loss of the franchise to another country would have led to $1.5 billion in lost revenue from potential jobs, sub-contracting positions, and local supply of goods and services.

The question that arises is what did Croatia do to lure a high-calibre production, such as the Game of Thrones, that managed to place Dubrovnik on this pedestal of filmic locations? Other than build the fort of Lovrijenac in the 11th Century, it recently introduced a cash rebate system for foreign productions shooting in Croatia.

Dubrovnik - location for hit HBO series Game of Thrones

Dubrovnik – location for hit HBO series Game of Thrones

Now, I sincerely doubt that the total revenue gain from this decision is ever going to be quantified unless a better cooperation model amongst the many stakeholders in this business – from the various public bodies to all the potential private beneficiaries in the hospitality and entertainment industry – is introduced.

However, the buzzfeed.com list serves to show that, even 20 years after the release of Shawshank Redemption, its filming location is still reaping the benefits of the number of tourists it attracts each year. With the show’s cult status, I would suspect that the filming locations of the Game of Thrones are going to be visited in the many years to come, and consequently, that the numbers that could be pocketed by the city of Dubrovnik and Croatia in general from this affair could at least be counted in millions, if not in hefty billions of the above-mentioned NZ example.

And I ask myself again, how many productions will it take for the tourism officials to catch on to the idea that this particular branch of tourism is a serious business worth strategically developing.

As another example and coming from the other end of the world is yet another potentially interesting free promotional opportunity for our country. We’ve already written about the huge success of  “The Romantic” in Korea, who shot their first season in Croatia. Unfortunately, this phenomenon was overlooked locally, so its impact on the number of visiting South Korean tourists will never be known.

However, there is a chance Croatia might soon be striking gold once again in South Korea. As reported by the Korea Herald, the Korean tvN is returning to Croatia yet again to shoot another variety show: “Backpacking Project Part 2, Actress Special”. Following in the success of its prequel “Grandpas Over Flowers”, a reality show about four veteran actors, this upcoming show will feature 4 highly accomplished Korean actresses and Korean superstar entertainer Lee Seung-gi on a journey through Croatia.

Korean variety show Grandpas Over Flowers

Korean variety show Grandpas Over Flowers

According to Nielsen Korea, the fourth episode of “Grandpas Over Flowers” recorded a 5.3 percent average viewing rate in its home country, making the show an absolute blockbuster (hit shows on cable channels usually have a viewing rate between 1 and 3 %). In addition, the show also started airing in Taiwan and Hong Kong. With such viewership numbers, these variety shows just might prove to be the best advertisement Croatia is getting in this attractive market. And, ironically, up until now, it didn’t cost the country a dime.

While images of Croatia travel the globe through an increasing number of diverse audiovisual productions, opening doors to previously unexplored markets and opportunities, the question that should be asked is how can Croatia capitalize on its sudden rise in popularity amongst the global media & entertainment industry and what can it do to make it a viable business in the long run.

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