Whether you are a fan or not, HBO's Game of Thrones is undeniably a truly global phenomenon, captivating the world throughout its 8 gripping seasons. Lannister, Stark, Baratheon, Targaryen - which of the infamous houses will reign supreme and rule the Seven Kingdoms? In between brutal battles and fire breathing dragons, Game of Thrones was filmed against a backdrop of beautiful destinations, with some of the most iconic scenes filmed in locations around Ireland. Now, Ireland is more than a backdrop. It is the first Tourist Board to formally collaborate with HBO, crafting completely unique experiences and trails throughout the land and welcoming tourists in droves ever since, boosting tourism exponentially.
We caught up with Brian Twomey, Head of Marketing Communications at Tourism Ireland, to discuss the journey of how the destination came to be 'Game of Thrones Territory', and still attracts visitors from around the world to its famous landmarks.
1. Since 2014, Tourism Ireland has developed content and experiences around the popularity of Game of Thrones. Please can you tell us a bit about the journey from the beginning until now?
In Autumn 2013, I pitched some creative ideas to HBO in the hope that we could work together. Our ambition was to run a campaign in sync with the airing of season 4 in 2014 in all our markets targeting their fan base with engaging content that subverted the norms of tourism advertising, enticing visitors to the shores of Northern Ireland. They loved the creative work and gave approval for it to run but even more importantly they gave us approval to use their IP at no cost which enabled us to rebrand Northern Ireland as Game of Thrones Territory. You could call this first-mover advantage as several other destinations were used in the production of GOT but we were the first Tourist Board to submit a formal proposal for joint marketing.
Each year after our initial campaign success, HBO renewed our contract and the subsequent creative ideas became more ambitious and ultimately delivered the award-winning Doors of Thrones, our 87 metre long GOT Tapestry and our current campaign Glass of Thrones.
2. Aside from GOT fans, has this brought new audiences to the destination?
In 2018 Tourism Northern Ireland estimated that 350k out of state leisure visitors made the decision to visit Northern Ireland because of Game of Thrones with these visitors spending in excess of £50m in the local economy. The Tapestry on show in the Ulster Museum has already attracted in excess of 250k visitors and in so doing has completely changed their visitor age profile. GOT has delivered a very contemporary story for Northern Ireland and now with legacy attractions on the ground there are more things to see and do for the casual visitor as well as the GOT die-hard fans.
3. How do you continue to engage with the audience now GOT has come to an end? Do you find the experiences as popular?
Investing in the legacy of the show has been critical in order to sustain interest. The Game of Thone’s Doors is now a tour in its own right complete with a passport to be stamped at each of the 10 locations around Northern Ireland. The Tapestry now goes on tour and will be unveiled in Bayeux in September which is very appropriate as it was their tapestry that inspired ours although ours is 17 metres longer. The 6 stained glass windows are now permanent outdoor locations in Belfast. And next year the full studio tour will open in Banbridge.
Courtesy of Tourism Ireland
4. GOT has a global audience. How do you manage the global strategy across different markets?
It is the biggest TV show in broadcasting history screened in 200 territories worldwide. The show has 22m Facebook fans, 7m followers on Twitter and 5m followers on Instagram. They are a hugely engaged and passionate audience. Our role was to provide highly engaging and relevant content to them that bridged the gap between the fantasy of their much-loved show and the reality of Northern Ireland as a must-see destination for fans of the show.
5. It's clear that screen tourism has created huge opportunities for Ireland. What can we expect from your talk at #DTTTGlobal?
It has been an amazing journey of possibilities. It never felt like work although it brought risks and pressures and there was no certainty that our approach would work and could be sustained over 5 seasons. At its heart was a deep understanding of their fan base and the freedom to be creative and not to be micro-managed by multiple stakeholders. Cumulatively, we have generated in excess of €100m in earned media since our first campaign was aired in 2014 so it has generated an unprecedented ROI, enabled us to reach completely new audiences as well as driving incremental visitors to Northern Ireland and hopefully established a strong legacy for future growth.
We can't wait to hear more about this incredible journey of how film tourism has enabled the creation of totally unique visitor experiences in Ireland, welcoming both existing and new audiences to the destination, and achieving a phenomenal boost in tourism. Brian Twomey will be joining us at #DTTTGlobal on the 4th and 5th of December in Espoo to share more insight. We hope to see you there!
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