Mr Reijnders, who is professor of Cultural Heritage, has been awarded the prestigious ERC consolidator grant of 1.9 million euros for his research into film tourism. This subsidy will enable him to research film tourism in South Korea, India, Jamaica, Nigeria and the UK during the next 5 years.

An Inspector Morse tour was organised on one occasion when Mr Reijnders was in Oxford for a conference. Being a fan of this series, he went on the tour and this inspired him to carry out research during the past few years. “Detective series like Inspector Morse are set in practically every town in Britain,” he explains. “And the local tourism industries organise guided tours based on the TV series. Actually, it’s rather strange considering these series are about crime, violence and murder.”

An ideal perspective

Stijn Reijnders
Stijn Reijnders

The fact that people go and visit locations for films and TV series was new to Mr Reijnders. However, his interest in this phenomenon is not merely personal: film tourism is also interesting from an academic point of view, he adds. “Although media studies have always devoted a lot of attention to the significance and representation of society in the media, we don’t know a great deal about the effect it has on people and what they themselves do with the media. Film tourism is an ideal perspective for research on how people develop a certain outlook on the world, and what happens when this fantasy world comes up against their own experiences.”

Part of the story

One of the factors that Mr Reijnders is researching is why people go and visit places they have seen in films. “One major reason for this is that they feel they’re part of this fantasy world,” he says. “Or part of the interaction between fantasy and reality.” The locations that people visit are often very ordinary, such as the house where one of the characters lives or an alley where a detective stumbles upon a corpse. “These tourists know it’s fiction, but they undergo a sort of ‘suspension of disbelief’. Walking along that alley makes them feel part of the story.”

Another reason is that people want to try and establish the facts. Mr Reijnders was able to confirm this while doing research on James Bond fans. “Some film tourists are extremely technically cognitive,” he adds. “They take stills or photos of scenes in a film and then they go and visit the location to see if the film gives an accurate picture of the place.”

Walks in New Zealand dressed as Frodo

However, it’s difficult to say how much film tourism goes on as there are no global figures on the number of film tourists. We do know a little more about specific films or locations, though. New Zealand is a good example of this because The Lord of the Rings trilogy was shot there. “The number of international tourists visiting New Zealand doubled after these films were released,” says Mr Reijnders. There are two levels to people’s fascination with a film like that, he adds: “The Lord of the Rings has made New Zealand more popular as a holiday destination in a general sense, but it also attracts the hard-core fans. These people go on all the tours and visit the set. And some of them even go on walks in the hills dressed as Frodo.”

No longer a purely Western phenomenon

The EU grant will enable Mr Reijnders to extend his research to include a post-doctoral position plus four PhD students during the next 5 years, as well as comparing film tourism in South Korea, India, Nigeria, Jamaica and the UK. “Film tourism is a meeting point for the film industry and the tourist industry,” he says. This makes it interesting to establish international comparisons: “We often think that both these industries are purely Western phenomena but this is no longer the case. Globalisation can clearly be seen in the film industry as well as the tourist industry. For instance, more films are shot in Bollywood than in Hollywood, and the Chinese spend more money on international tourism than any other nation in the world.”

Jamaica as the Americans like to see it

The UK serves as a benchmark study. “Visit Britain, the British tourist office, actively focuses on attracting film and TV productions,” Mr Reijnders explains. “This puts the spotlight on the UK and encourages people to develop a love for that country.” The entire industry is in British hands, which means that all the relevant income remains in the UK. But the case is completely different in Jamaica, says Mr Reijnders. “Almost all the films shot in Jamaica are Hollywood productions that show the country as the Americans like to see it. Take Blue Lagoon for instance: this shows dazzlingly white beaches, blue sea and not too many people. But this only serves to attract American tourists who book their holidays through American tour operators and stay at American hotels. Film tourism there has quite a different impact on the local economy.”

Mr Reijnders’ research is ultimately intended to result in policy recommendations. “There’s hardly any tourism in Nigeria,” he says. “It’s not exactly a tourist hot spot because of Ebola and Boko Haram. But Nollywood is still the second biggest employer in that country. They shoot an incredible number of films there, which are put on DVD and sold all over Africa.” Mr Reijnders believes that his international comparisons will result in policy recommendations for countries such as Nigeria. “How can we make the film industry even more popular and link it up with the tourist industry?”

Mr Reijnders will be among the guests in the special IFFR edition of Studio Erasmus at Rotterdamse Schouwburg theatre on 2 February.