The average American watches five hours and four minutes of TV every day and sees approximately seven movies every month, according to studies by ratings guru Nielsen and movie rental company Redbox. If you didn't know it already, now you do: Americans love film and television.
In fact, they love some movies and TV shows so much that they build entire communities around them. In order to express their fandom, they dress up like their favorite characters, throw watch parties with their friends, join online discussion groups, purchase branded merchandise, write fan fiction, memorize relevant trivia and attend fan conventions. Sometimes, they even take themed vacations, the contours of which contain an interesting idea for incentive planners: If you want to motivate employees, combining their thirst for travel with their passion for entertainment could be a powerful means for doing it.
Cable TV network HBO certainly seems to think so. As it prepares to air the final season of its blockbuster show "Game of Thrones" beginning on April 14, it has announced a new studio tour designed to welcome fans into the show's fictional Seven Kingdoms.
Scheduled to debut in spring 2020, the Game of Thrones Studio Tour will be located at Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge, Northern Ireland -- the original filming location used for many of the series' best-known scenes. The tour will be "deeply immersive and sensory," according to HBO, which said it will bring fans face-to-face with original set pieces, costumes, props and weapons used to create the worlds of Westeros and Essos. Also planned are informative displays highlighting the show's production spaces as well as the craftsmanship and artistry of the show's creative teams; there will be an interactive costume-department station, for example, workshops devoted to the production and art departments, and a display about the makeup and prosthetics shop, just to name a few.
"Some of the most iconic scenes from 'Game of Thrones' were filmed at Linen Mill Studios, and our fans will soon have an opportunity to visit and see the work of the show's incredible crew in the museum setting it deserves," said Jeff Peters, vice president, licensing and retail, HBO.
Added John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI, Northern Ireland's destination marketing organization, "'Game of Thrones' has transformed Northern Ireland into a leading international screen-tourism destination, bringing many more visitors and fans of the show to Northern Ireland to explore the stunning landscapes, coastlines and mountains showcased in the series. The new attraction will also allow visitors to see the authentic sets and costumes and learn how 'Game of Thrones' was made … I commend both Linen Mill Studios in recognizing the increasing opportunity in screen tourism here and HBO's commitment to Northern Ireland as the 'Home of Thrones.' I have no doubt this investment will deliver a world-class visitor experience."
Four More 'Screen Tourism' Experiences for Groups
You won't be able to visit Westeros until next year. In the meantime, here are four more cinematic excursions that are available to adventurous incentive groups today:
• Hobbiton Movie Set Tour (Waikato, New Zealand). When director Peter Jackson decided to turn J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" into an epic film series, he chose as their backdrop the lush, rolling hills of New Zealand. Specifically, those of the Alexander farm, a 1,250-acre sheep farm in Waikato, which has since been turned into the tourist attraction known as Hobbiton. Guided tours began in 2002, when there were only a few scant remnants left from when Jackson filmed the original "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy there in 1999. When crews returned in 2009 to film "The Hobbit" trilogy, however, they left behind a fully formed set -- including 44 permanent "Hobbit Holes" -- that is now the heart of Hobbiton. Tours of the 12-acre movie set include visits to famous locations from Jackson's films and a behind-the-scenes look at how the movie magic was made. Particularly notable are evening banquet tours that take place at dusk and conclude with a meal at the Green Dragon Inn, a banquet hall modeled after the beloved Hobbiton bar from Tolkien's stories.
• The Making of Harry Potter (London). Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" is the No. 3 best-selling book of all time. But not far behind it, at No. 5, is "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by J. K. Rowling. Although tourists have been flocking to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios' theme parks in Florida, Hollywood and Japan, true Potterheads' destination of choice is Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - the Making of Harry Potter, a behind-the-scenes tour at Warner Bros.' studio in Leavesden, England, just outside of London. Located adjacent to the working film studios where all eight Harry Potter films were made, the tour leads visitors through two soundstages and a backlot filled with original sets, animatronic creatures, costumes and special effects from the movies.
• Highclere Castle ("Downton Abbey") Tours (Newbury, England). Ninety minutes outside London and just 40 minutes from Oxford is the vintage 19th-century Highclere Castle, which was the iconic setting for the beloved British TV series "Downton Abbey." The castle hosts individuals and groups for self-guided tours, and also offers private tours that can be tailored based on the group's size, interest and dates. Tours encompass the expansive woods and gardens around the structure, as well as the castle's state rooms and bedrooms, many of which will be instantly recognizable to fans of the show, who can expect to learn as much about the home's real history during their visit as they do its fictional history.
• Hollywood ("Jurassic Park") Movie Sites Tour (Kaneohe, Hawaii). Although they won't find dinosaurs there, visitors can experience the real Jurassic Park at Hawaii's Kualoa Ranch, where portions of the original "Jurassic Park" and its recent sequels, "Jurassic World" and "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," were filmed. The ranch, a 4,000-acre private nature reserve, offers numerous tours and experiences, including a Hollywood Movie Sites tour that includes sites from not only the "Jurassic Park" films, but also numerous other films and TV shows that have been filmed there, including "Hawaii Five-0," "Lost" "50 First Dates" and "Godzilla." A highlight for movie and history buffs alike is a WWII-era Army bunker that now houses movie posters, props and memorabilia from the movies filmed at Kualoa. Other, more adventurous tours allow visitors to experience the ranch on horseback, by zipline or in an ATV.