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PASSENGER SERVICES Last modified on May 30, 2011

Feature Films

Are airports making enough out of being the gateway to famous film set locations?

You’ve seen the film – now you want to visit the location. It’s a feeling familiar to people the world over. And, it’s a trend that is becoming increasingly potent in today’s multimedia environment.

Tourist boards clamber over one another to secure film productions in their region, because the on-screen advertising exposure is worth millions.

And it’s often global. Author Martin Evans estimated that the total exposure the Lord Of The Rings film trilogy gave New Zealand could be calculated at $25 million.

That film transformed the entire tourist economy of a developed country – so it’s no wonder tourist boards and airports want to get in on the act.

“As you are no doubt aware, the New Zealand tourism industry put a lot of effort into leveraging the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and other productions such as Narnia) to attract international visitors,” explains Auckland International Airport’s Richard Llewellyn.

“As part of the New Zealand tourism industry, we play our part in these efforts through the facilitation of cast and crew, and joint venture marketing of Auckland as a destination alongside tourism agencies such as Tourism NZ.”

Auckland has also enjoyed its 15 seconds of fame. Llewellyn says: “While we don’t actively market the airport as a film location, we do receive many requests each year to film advertisements, documentaries, or feature films.

“Where possible, we do our best to accommodate these requests, as long as they do not interrupt operations. For commercial filming requests we charge a location fee, which covers any airport costs. Most location requests involve the inside of the terminals.”

However, he adds: “We have had some more unusual requests, such as a request to film a ‘race’ on the runway between a racing car and a passenger aircraft!

“Many New Zealand documentary or film-makers have incorporated the airport as a location in their work. There have also been some scenes for some Bollywood productions shot at Auckland International Airport.”

When you think about films where the location is integral to the story – these are the ones that are most important in terms of film tourism.

Tourism Australia directly funded Baz Luhrmann’s epic Australia with the express intention of attracting visitors to Darwin and the Kimberley region. Luhrmann even directed adverts for Tourism Australia, with the strapline ‘See the movie, see the country’.

Nicolas Devillier, CEO of Cambodian airport operator Société Concessionnaire des Aéroports (SCA), noted in a previous issue of Airport World that numbers of visitors through Siem Reap jumped due to the success of Tomb Raider.

The action movie sees Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft getting into scrapes around the ancient temple of Angkor Wat – which Siem Reap serves.

Back in New Zealand, Wellington is cashing-in on film tourism too – by reinventing itself as, wait for it... Wellywood.

Wellington International Airport is not afraid to innovate. Its boldly designed new terminal, The Rock, opened last year. Yet this go-ahead gateway is courting even more controversy with its plan to install a tongue-in-cheek appropriation of the Hollywood sign.

The proposed idea is to install 3.5-metre high white letters reading ‘Wellywood’ on a hill outside the airport. Sir Peter Jackson – Lord Of The Rings director and NZ auteur who based his production company in Wellington – told New Zealand’s Stuff Magazine that he was: “Thrilled that Wellington Airport were paying tribute to the Kiwi craftsmen and women who created the movie magic that entertains all corners of our planet.”

“Wellington Airport works closely with local authorities to support Wellington’s film industry in a number of ways, from providing locations for shoots to facilitating the travel of the stars themselves,” says Wellington Airport’s chief commercial officer, Matt Clarke.

“The film industry contributed NZ$531 million in 2009 and we support many tourism initiatives related to it.

“The top two grossing films of all time have been made in Wellington – The Lord of the Rings trilogy (when the airport displayed film costumes in its terminal and partnered with Weta Workshop to put a giant Gollum on the roof to welcome travellers), and Avatar.

“We support and encourage the industry to use the airport. The most recent film was a Bollywood version of The Italian Job shot on the runway.”

Interestingly, Pittsburgh International Airport has been the location for a large number of Hollywood shoots, they include Dogma (1999), Smart People (2008) and The Next Three Days (2010).

Indeed, stars such as Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Danny DeVito and Russell Crowe have all filmed scenes at the airport.

But PIT’s biggest moment of fame came in 2010 with the comedy She’s Out Of My League. Largely set in the airport and telling the story of a TSA employee played by Jay Baruchel and his crush Alice Eve, the film showcased the gateway to the world.

“We have many movies filmed here and we are supportive of the film industry in Pittsburgh,” says Allegheny County Airport Authority’s communications director, JoAnn Jenny.

She continues: “But we do not promote film tourism at the airport itself because most of the filming areas are beyond the security checkpoint.”

In fact the entire state of Pennsylvania is something of a giant Hollywood lot, although Pittsburgh remains the top film location.

Beverly Morrow-Jones from VisitPittsburgh explains: “Pittsburgh has a strong presence in the film industry – and recent films shot in Pittsburgh include: Unstoppable, and Love and Other Drugs. There are many, many more too. Film tourism is important to us.”

Over in Philadelphia, famous flicks like Rocky have attracted visitors to the city for decades, with many – of course – flying into Philadelphia International Airport.

Philadelphia Film Office’s Sharon Pinkenson, waxes lyrical: “We and Philadelphia International Airport have always maintained a close working relationship because 25% of all major feature films shooting in the region spend at least a day shooting a scene at the airport.

“We’ve doubled for many airports and often stand in as the shooting location for New York City and Washington DC.”

She adds: “As for film tourism, PHL has always embraced the fact that travellers to and from Philadelphia love the movies. So the airport started hanging full sized movie posters of many of the blockbuster films that were shot in around the Philadelphia region.

“I frequently hear from people who recently saw the posters that they had no idea how many films were shot in Philadelphia and how much they loved seeing the posters.

“Several years ago, the Greater Philadelphia Film Office instituted the Philadelphia Movie Sites bus tours – visiting 50 sites featured in dozens of famous movies like Philadelphia, In Her Shoes and The Sixth Sense. There’s even a Rocky run up the steps outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”

In Jamaica, they’ve even renamed an airport – Ian Fleming International – to try and cash in on the Bond legend, and Fleming’s former home nearby. This is now the Goldeneye Hotel – and Goldeneye’s Jacinta Goulter told Airport World: “It’s just 10 minutes’ drive from the hotel to the airport, so we have an interest.

“The airport was formerly known as Boscobel Aerodrome and has been renovated and expanded to accommodate private jets and other small commercial aircraft. The name change is fitting – Ian Fleming helped put Jamaica on the map during the 1950s and 60s.”

Goulter goes on: “The airport will be able to park six international aircraft with a maximum wingspan of 16.8 metres and a maximum length of 20 metres, plus three small domestic planes.”

Orange County Airport in Santa Ana was renamed John Wayne Airport back in 1979 in honour of the legendary US actor. It actually has many film connections, not least being so close to Hollywood itself and allowing the film industry and Los Angeles movie tourists access to this picture-perfect corner of southern California.

John Wayne Airport’s public relations manager, Jenny Wedge, notes: “We have the popular Newport Beach Film Festival here each year, attracting 51,000 visitors – 10% of which fly in.”

Wedge also goes on to echo the views of others, that prying tourists are not exactly the kind of thing an airport wants round its perimeter these days.

“We don’t encourage filming as it requires an extensive permitting process. So, we can offer it and work with companies on film or commercial requests, but it’s infrequent that we actually film here,” she says.

“So much has changed since 9/11 regarding security that it’s much more difficult to approve the types of requests we receive. We haven’t filmed a movie here in more than six years.”

Before that Clear And Present Danger, Jerry Maguire and The Insider were filmed at the airport.

One of the problems with film tourism is: how do you measure it? How do airports know if marketing strategies are worth their while?

Auckland’s Llewellyn admits that it is “very hard to put a number on this”, however, he believes that airports that fail to recognise the potential of ‘film tourism’ could ultimately lose out.

“We are always open to ideas that might help grow visitor numbers at Auckland International Airport, and film tourism is an interesting one as we believe that an airport’s unique location can play more than a bit part,” says Llewellyn.

It’s showtime!

Airport World 2011 - Issue 2

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