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by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC

Way down South

MidnightWay back in the late nineties I completed a programme in Tourism Marketing at Boston College. During the programme they flew us for a weekend to Savannah, Georgia to visit a city where inbound visitor numbers had increased significantly, apparently on the strength of a book by New York Times journalist, John Berendt. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a factual novel, was published in 1994 and within a year local CVB, Visit Savannah, recorded 300,000 more visitors to the town, an upward trend which continued unabated each year for a full six years. The number of hotel rooms in Savannah doubled during that same period and visitor spending tripled in Savannah over the last 18 years [source; WTOC website]

I referred to this phenomenon in a recent post on Istanbul when my own reading of Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence and Istanbul fuelled a decision to holiday there this year with The Sleeping Beauty and The Gang of Two. But where else are there powerful links between destinations and literature and how are these links leveraged for the purposes of destination marketing?

1. Stieg Larsson’s Stockholm

Stieg LarssonStieg Larsson’s Millennium series was published posthumously in the mid 00s with the English translation of the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, arriving in 2008. Initially a slow burner doing the rounds at book clubs, the series eventually became a publishing sensation generating both Swedish and Hollywood movies and an Oscar nomination for Rooney Mara who played main character, Lisbeth Salander. Larsson’s books and the movies which followed also focused attention on Sweden, and on Stockholm in particular, with visitors arriving from all over the world in search of the fictional Hedestad. Well over 100m people have seen the movies so you can imagine the impact on a city with less than 1m inhabitants! Today Stockholm City Museum provides Millennium Tours of the City linking the real city with its fictional counterpart. You can also purchase a map and do a DIY version of the tour yourself. Either way the CVB has recognised the promotability of Stockholm’s connection to Stieg Larsson and is creating visitor assets around this.

2. James Joyce’s Dublin

UlyssesIs there another novel as inextricably linked to its physical setting as Joyce’s Ulysses? Joyce himself allegedly proclaimed that if Dublin were to be destroyed by some catastrophe it could be re-built, brick by brick, using the book as a model. James Joyce is probably the most well know but least read novelists in the world and this may account for the lack of visitor infrastructure connected to Joyce and his writings. People know about him but haven’t got beyond the first page of Ulysses. The Martello Tower, set astride the infamous “snot green, scrotum tightening sea” at Sandycove, just outside Dublin is the location of the first chapter of Ulysses. However, it remains open to visitors due only to the dedication of local volunteers who give their time free of charge. The James Joyce Centre on North Great George’s Street does offer Tours of the City in the footsteps of Ulysses’s main character, Leopold Bloom, but, overall, the potential to attract non-specialist visitors around the Joyce connection is probably under-explored.

3. Dan Brown’s Paris, London, Florence, Rome, Venice and Istanbul

Dan BrownNext to JK Rowling, Dan Brown has been the most successful author of the contemporary era. His Robert Langton novels, Angels and Demons (2000), The Da Vinci Code (2003), The Lost Symbol (2009) and Inferno (2013) have sold millions and two have been made into successful movies. Paris in The Da Vinci Code, Rome in Angels and Demons, DC in The Lost Symbol and Florence, Venice and Istanbul in Inferno are all intricately interwoven into the plots of the books to the point where the cities themselves are almost protagonists (and certainly more nuanced and dimensional than the flat, robotic characters that Brown inflicts upon us!) There’s a plethora of Da Vinci Code tours on offer in Paris but the visitor interest is also posing challenges for professional guides as it can lead to a distorted perception of the city: “An increasing number of people are seeing Paris through the lens of the The Da Vinci Code … but how do you respond to that interest intelligently, without taking away from the experience of a city like Paris?” says Ellen McBreen of Paris Muse, creator of the city’s first Da Vinci Code. Tour companies are be fast off the mark too – Inferno tours of Florence were available before Brown’s book was released in paperback.

Books with a strong sense of place, and particularly those that have been made into movies, can play a vital role in attracting incoming visitors to a destination. Readers connect emotionally with the people and the places and their curiosity is piqued to the point of wanting to walk the same streets, ride the same buses, eat in the same cafes. When the plot is so linked to the physical realities of the city – its hidden alleyways and underground passages – as in Dan Brown’s books this need to visit is even more acute. This is classic, cliched, “low hanging fruit” that destination marketing organisation need to harvest while, simultaneously, ensuring that overall brand attributes are not damaged or harmed.

So what other books and cities could be mentioned?

What special literary tours / experiences are you doing in your city?

Padraic Gilligan works for MCI and runs MCI’s destination services division, Ovation Global DMC with his friend and business partner, Patrick Delaney.



One thought on “How books help sell destinations

  1. Hugo Slimbrouck says:

    ,the dog of Flanders, is known by every schoolboy in Japan and features Antwerp. Ian Rankin does more city marketing for Edinburgh than the CVB and Pieter Aspe does the same for Bruges.

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