Programmes and films like Game of Thrones and Star Wars attract massive cult followings and in Ireland we have been quick to capitalise on this popularity.
You have to hand it to the Irish tourism boffins, north and south. If there’s a new angle from which to sell these 32 counties to the international tourist market, they will be on it. The use of Skellig Michael in the filming of Star Wars was very much a home-grown initiative. And the resultant publicity? Well, as the saying goes, you couldn’t buy it.
Across the border, the tourism opportunity afforded by the worldwide phenomenon that is Game of Thrones has been very much embraced. The hit show, which is filmed in Northern Ireland, has drawn legions of fans to a Game of Thrones tourist attraction, near Strangford in Co Down, where many of the show’s key scenes were filmed.
RTÉ Reporter Abie Philbin Bowman decided to see what all the fuss was about so he visited County Down recently, and he related the experience to Sean O’Rourke on the Today programme. Among those he met was the self-proclaimed ‘Lord of Winterfell’, Willard Stark, who gave listeners an idea of just how global this global phenomenon had become.
"We get people from all over the world. The Chinese and Indian markets are emerging heavily here.
"One third of our customers would come from the United States. A third would come from the UK and Ireland. The rest, dotted throughout Europe."
Winterfell Castle & Demesne feature strongly as a backdrop to the filming of Game of Thrones, the seventh and final season of which began on HBO last night. This evening, it airs on Sky Atlantic.
The show, of course, has been criticised by some for gratuitous violence, nudity and sexual content. But judging by the visitor numbers to the tourist experience, those things seem to have some kind of universal appeal. Who’d have thought?
Willard Stark, for his part, has actually helped train the actors in archery and horse-riding for the original pilot and during filming. He showed Abie some of the elements of what he called the "immersive experience" Game of Thrones tourists can enjoy.
"People can actually stay in Winterfell Forest. They can enjoy the archery experience, do cycle tours around the estate itself, visit all of the 20 location sites."
One of the offerings at Winterfell is a collection of "glamping pods" (short for ‘glamorous camping’ in case you didn’t know. Mucking it with a Dothraki horde is, presumably, optional).
"When they arrive here, they get an immersive and interactive experience."
Of course, where there is an "immersive experience" there is an accompanying app, this one for the bikes, so visitors can navigate their own way around the site. This is particularly good with an iPad, says Willard.
Apart from that, there’s a particular experience that pays tribute to one of the show’s characters, but is perfectly adaptable to one of the staples of the Irish hospitality industry.
"We are recreating, basically, King Robert’s banquet. They can accommodate birthday parties, hen and stag parties, weddings, any event up to 300 guests."
Hopefully, guests that don’t eat like a Plantagenet.
Willard Stark seems to have done his homework, telling Abie that Screen Tourism is a more enduring market than people might think. If a show is big enough, he says, people will keep discovering it, and tourists will flock to the location for years after watching the show. Even now, years after the likes of Friends and Sex and the City have finished, there are still tours of New York where tourists can see locations used in those shows.
To listen to this report in full from Abie Philbin Bowman, and to discover everything that’s on offer in the Game of Thrones tourist experience, listen above.