Setting the Scene: Game of Thrones Fans Seek Out Belfast, Osuna and Iceland


    Image: Fabrizio Morra

    APEX Insight: Feature films and TV series are inspiring audiences to take the show on the road. In this section of the multipart feature, we explore how fans of the hit TV series Game of Thrones are following their favorite characters across the Seven Kingdoms.

    Winter is coming… and so are Game of Thrones tourists. HBO’s megahit has had a huge impact on European tourism, as fans fly to shooting locations in corners of the continent not often thrust into the spotlight. A welcome tourism boost can become a deluge, though, particularly in sparsely populated areas.

    Game of Thrones can claim some credit for Gatwick Airport’s long-haul traffic surge as fans invade the show’s Northern Ireland sets. “The Game of Thrones effect is well and truly established,” the airport reports. Of all the airport’s destinations, Belfast saw the biggest increase in passenger numbers, up 388,486 passengers (83 percent) from 2015.

    “The Game of Thrones effect is well and truly established.”

    As Littlefinger said in the show itself, “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.” This is true for Osuna, Spain, which had been reeling from the 2008 global financial crisis, with most of its young people having decamped to larger cities, until Game of Thrones entered the scene. The Andalusian town of 18,000 saw an immediate influx of 5,000 tourists, with fans packing its restaurants and pubs beyond capacity. And the fans keep coming.

    Game of Thrones tourism may be a boon for economically faltering parts of Europe, but someone in Iceland may soon have to hold the door: In 2016, visitors from the US alone nearly overtook the local population – 325,000 as of last September, versus 332,000 Icelanders – and Game of Thrones fans are believed to have helped lead the charge.

    [In Iceland], visitors from the US alone nearly overtook the local population.

    Iceland’s skyrocketing popularity has put a strain on its ability to house all those tourists, while a boom in Airbnb offerings has impacted affordability for locals. An Icelandic National Broadcasting Service poll found respondents supportive of higher taxes on tourists to Iceland to fund a more robust hospitality infrastructure.

    TV tourism can be fun for travelers and host locations alike, but it may lead to too much of a good thing as outside forces put pressure on local economic development. Fortunately, no evidence suggests that set-jetting tourists are traveling with dragons hungry for local livestock. Yet.

    “Setting the Scene” was originally published in the 7.3 June/July issue of APEX Experience magazine.