Why Hollywood is the best travel agent in town

Glenorchy, on Lake Wakatipu in New Zealand, one of the locations for The Lord of the Rings.
Glenorchy, on Lake Wakatipu in New Zealand, one of the locations for The Lord of the Rings.

Tomorrow’s Oscars won’t just inspire cinema audiences. They’ll inspire countless holidays and city breaks too.

HOLLYWOOD stars and movie moguls won’t be the only ones with butterflies in their stomachs during the 86th Academy Awards. Tourist boards in places such as Nebraska, New York, and Northern Ireland will be sweating it through the ceremony, too.

The reason will be obvious to anyone who has ever watched a movie, sat back in awe as the credits rolled, and thought: ‘Wow. I want to go there. Now.’

That’s a powerful feeling, and it’s one experienced by millions of moviegoers every year. Films create images and emotions that stick irresistibly in the mind. Take those images, toss in some PR pixie dust, and it’s easy to see how movie tourism is booming.

Take New York, the mother of all movie locations. After being attacked by giant apes and aliens (King Kong, Independence Day), swung through by Spiderman (2002) and creeped out by Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver, 1971), it comes to this year’s Oscars party arm in arm with a Best Picture nomination for The Wolf of Wall Street.

Martin Scorsese’s 180-minute exercise in flamboyant excess sees Leonardo DiCaprio play Jordan Belfort — a stockbroker who scales the giddy heights of Wall Street before toppling into a hot mess of crime, corruption, and stock swindles.

The tableau is instantly familiar — and not just from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987).

Think of Lower Manhattan and its financial landmarks — Trump Tower, the JP Morgan building, or Arturo di Modica’s bronze sculpture, Charging Bull, with its nostrils flaring. Walking tours like The Wall Street Experience (thewallstreetexperience.com; $50/€36) even feature former employees of Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank as guides.

After 9/11 and the global financial crisis, both of which took place following Belfort’s fall and prison sentence, Lower Manhattan changed. Tourists can no longer visit the New York Stock Exchange, for example. Security has ramped up, and of course, the new World Trade Centre, 9/11 memorial and museum have risen from the ashes of the old.

Movie tours are an option too. On Location (onlocationtours.com; $40) offers breezy bus rides around New York’s top TV and movie sites — from the apartment building in Friends to the Plaza Hotel (seen in another Best Picture contender, American Hustle). They even pass by the firehouse featured in Ghostbusters&.

In New York, you can follow King Kong up the Empire State Building, or eat a whack of pastrami at Katz’s Deli, where Meg Ryan enjoyed one of her most famous scenes: “You are sitting where Harry met Sally”, as the sign says.

Fake orgasms are optional.

The Big Apple is just one great movie city, of course. Paris doesn’t feature among the Oscar nominations this year, but in 2012 it gave us both Hugo and Midnight in Paris. My own favourites include Three Colours: Blue (1993) and Ratatouille (2007). Think also of Sherlock Holmes (2009) in London. Or Steve McQueen and Bullitt (1969) in San Francisco.

Nor is it just cities that attract tourists. Think of iconic locations like the Star Wars sets still standing in Tunisia’s dessert, or the lagoon on Thailand’s Ko Phi Phi, where DiCaprio found paradise in The Beach (2000). Before the movie, it was known only to intrepid travellers. Now, it’s open season. In the same way The Lego Movie will shift billions of little plastic bricks, so Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy drove legions of movie fans to New Zealand. Forty percent of tourists say they want to visit locations they see in films, according to Visit Britain — Alnwick alone (home to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts) saw numbers shoot up 230% on foot of the franchise. Some movies are more likely to inspire tourism than others, mind. Would you really book flights to Texas after watching Matthew McConaughey railing against the dying of the light in Dallas Buyers Club? Would you visit the Louisiana of 12 Years a Slave?

Nebraska, on the other hand, could benefit. Alexander Payne’s latest movie sees Bruce Dern undertake a road trip from Montana to Nebraska. It follows Sideways (2004), a movie whose fans “softened the economic blow to the Santa Ynez Valley”, according to the Los Angeles Times, going so far as to request the rooms where character Miles and Jack stayed.

It’s a blockbuster bandwagon, and one travel site jumping on board is Wimdu.com.au, a social community connecting travellers and hosts with spare rooms and apartments. Current offers include the chance to “relive the wild life of Jordan Belfort” in a 38th-floor penthouse with views of the Manhattan skyline and an Armani-designed kitchen island. At €800 per night, you may also need Jordan Belfort to pay the bill.

Closer to home, Wimdu bigs up the “scenes of rolling hills and quaint cottages” featured in Philomena, for which Judy Dench has won her latest Oscar nod. The movie tells the story of a mother searching for the son she gave up for adoption, with locations including Downpatrick, Rostrevor, and Killyleagh in Co Down. The Mourne Mountains are a spectacular backdrop, braided with hiking trails and activity options ranging from mountain biking to marshmallow-toasting. They’re celebrated in song by Percy French, and on a clear day, visible from the Dublin Mountains.

In fact, Northern Ireland is enjoying something of a hot streak with regards to screen-related tourism — thanks in the main to Game of Thrones. The HBO smash hit’s fourth season is due in April, with the real-life Westeros attracting the interest of fans from all over the globe for its mystical landscapes, crumbling castles, and hidden gems. Think of the 400-million-year-old caves at Cushendun, where a shadow was born amidst dramatic scenes in season two. Thirty minutes west along the A2, you’ll find Larrybane, AKA Storm’s End. Castle Ward, an 18th century mansion overlooking Strangford Lough, provided the show with landmarks like Whispering Wood and Winterfell.

The ultimate movie location, of course, won’t be found on the departure boards. It begins beyond our atmosphere, and is the (special-effects-generated) setting for another hot Oscar favourite — Gravity. The George Clooney and Sandra Bullock vehicle is a frontrunner for many of the technical gongs — including sound, visual effects, and editing. Will space tourism become a reality? It’s a question of when, not if. Over a decade since Denis Tito became the first civilian to hitch a ride in a rocket, Virgin Galactic continues on its course to launch commercial flights from the Mojave Desert.

Several hundred people have already forked out $250,000 to book their place in space. This January, Richard Branson’s company completed the third rocket-powered supersonic flight of its passenger vehicle, SpaceShip Two.

“We focused on gathering more transonic and supersonic data, and our chief pilot, Dave, handled the vehicle beautifully,” says CEO George Whitesides. “With each flight test, we are progressively closer to our target of starting commercial service in 2014.”

It’s movie travel, Jim, but not as we know it.

A THREE-NIGHTER... BE YANKEE DOODLE HANDY

For between €599 and €639, Amercian Sky has teamed up with United Airlines to offer deals to Boston, Chicago, New York or Las Vegas. The three nighters are all valid for stays to March 31. Details on 01 664 9999 or www.americansky.ie

TIGHT DEADLINE FOR DEVON DEAL

There are two days to go to take advantage of Irish Ferries Holidays special early booking offer to the UK Haven Holiday resort of Devon Cliffs. Seven night deals are available for €773 (saving €355) on bookings made by Monday (March 3). www.irishferries.com/haven or call 0818 300 400.

FIVE STAR: SHELL OUT FOR THE SHELBOURNE

To celebrate 190 years of business, Dublin’s biggest five star hotel, the 265-room Shelbourne, is offering €190 packages for one night B&B accommodation for two valid up to April 24. Details on www.TheShelbourne.ie or 01 663 4500

VIETNAM THREE CENTRE HOLIDAY FOR €2,449

Travelnet offer a 14-day tour Vietnam three centre holiday with flights ex Dublin via Abu Dhabi for €2,449 based on two sharing. Book before March 31 and travel between April and mid July or mid August to September. Details on 021-4894084 or on www.travelnet.ie

SEND MUM PACKING FOR MOTHERS’ DAY

The Irish Travel Agents Association are plugging Mothers Day travel gifts this year, arguing that sun breaks are more appropriate than flowers. The ITAA are brokering a seven night break in Morocco (ex Dublin) from March 29 for €449. http://itaa.ie/mothers-day-gift-morocco/

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