Harnessing the Power of Pop Culture Tourism

hobbit houses yellow and blue doors
by Miranda Maisto
Partner Programs Operations Manager

As destinations around the world seek innovative ways to reach new audiences, it's crucial not to overlook the potential of pop culture tourism. This form of tourism, driven by the influence of popular media, has proven to be a powerful tool for attracting visitors and boosting local economies.

The Impact of Pop Culture Tourism

Pop culture-inspired travel has become more prevalent than ever before with travelers seeking unique and immersive experiences. According to The State of American Traveler, two-thirds of global travelers have researched destinations and 39% have booked trips after seeing them on streaming shows or movies. After the debut of The White Lotus, searches for flights and hotels to Sicily increased by 50%, and an astonishing 950% for the hotel the series was filmed in. This illustrates the massive influence streaming media and other pop culture trends have on audiences and the untapped opportunities for destinations. Destinations can capitalize on the unexpected boom of attention by leaning into the organic buzz. 

How Can Your Destination Leverage Pop Culture?

1. Location-Based Experiences: 

Leverage the popularity of specific pop culture phenomena by offering content, tours, or experiences that showcase the actual filming locations or settings of popular movies or TV shows. Destinations like Visit Utah created itineraries to showcase its expansive landscapes featured on screen.

Utah goblin valley state park

Goblin Valley State Park, located in Southern Utah, features “The Galaxy Quest” itinerary, which involves a hike through sandstone formations that mimic the setting of Mars from the movie “Galaxy Quest”.

Netflix has even curated a handful of unique pop-up experiences (such as hosting holiday shopping opportunities featuring “Stranger Things” and other popular series). Destinations in surrounding areas to events like these should leverage the excitement by featuring them on their social platforms as unique and only in said city.

clothes folded and hung up on red shelves

Netflix at The Grove offers an immersive shopping experience featuring a range of limited-edition items from Netflix’s most iconic shows.

2. Incorporating Pop Culture into SEO and Social Strategies 

Additionally, destinations can write content that includes keywords related to popular TV shows, books, movies, or celebrities, making it easier for fans to find information about their fandoms in relation to local attractions. Engage with your audience and communities on social media, not just your traditional travel influencers, by sharing content related to the destination's pop culture connections and collaborating with popular show accounts to increase awareness. A great example is the long-awaited reopening of Denver’s iconic Casa Bonita, featured and thrown into the global spotlight through South Park, and their use of TikTok to amplify excitement.

casa bonita cartoon image

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone featured their new venture, Casa Bonita, a Mexican-themed restaurant in Denver, CO, during season seven.

3. Don't Overlook the Unconventional  

Destinations should pay close attention to the shift in gaming to augmented reality. Pokémon Go’s popularity and user growth, with an average of 78 million players in January 2023 alone, is a great way to capture audiences already looking to explore their surroundings. Destinations can submit point of interest (POI) suggestions to the app for added foot traffic and fanfare. Users do have to be at level 37 in the game to submit POIs, but odds are there is a local content creator in your community or even someone on your staff is already a Poke Trainer!

pokemon go image

The growing community and popularity of the virtual reality game Pokémon Go offer a unique opportunity to showcase your destination in front of a large audience with a sense of adventure.

Pop culture tourism presents a valuable opportunity for destinations to amplify interest and visitation. By leveraging these numerous approaches, destinations can tap into the power of pop culture fandoms to attract a broader range of travelers. Whether through TV shows, movies, books, games, music, or other digital media, destinations can create memorable experiences that connect with visitors on a deeper level. As people continue to seek fresh experiences, pop culture tourism presents itself as an alluring way to engage and captivate visitors worldwide.

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