The power of screen

Destinations are using motion pictures to attract tourists, with many developing an arsenal of assistance to make it easier for film production. By Rohit Kaul and Karen Yue

Asian destinations are increasingly harnessing the power of screen as a tool to promote themselves for tourism.

Countries like Nepal, Malaysia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and India are strategically leveraging the popularity of TV shows and movies to attract visitors, and they are doing so through collaboration with production houses. Incentives are dished out for filmmakers and assistance is offered to help them identify unique locations that would also convert viewers into eventual visitors.

Nepal, known for its majestic landscapes, has witnessed a surge in Indian travellers following the filming of Bollywood movies such as Uunchai (Altitude) in the Mount Everest region. In a bid to further harness this potential, the government plans to develop film cities near Pokhara and Kathmandu.

Dhananjay Regmi, CEO of the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), said: “We will tie-up with Indian companies that are experts in setting up filming facilities. We are also looking to support film production by easing processes related to taxes and drone permits, etc.”

In Malaysia, the government offers the Filming in Malaysia Incentive (FIMI), which provides a 30 per cent rebate on production expenditure for qualified movies. In 2022, an additional five per cent rebate was introduced to films that feature local art and culture.

Musa Yusof, deputy director general, promotion, Tourism Malaysia, said film tourism is one of the NTO’s key focus areas. The country welcomed many movie stars and film crew from India for shoots in the pre-pandemic years.

“Bollywood films have helped to raise awareness of our destinations, like Langkawi, among Indian consumers,” he said.

In 2022, Malaysia also welcomed a Survivor series shoot involving participants from five or six countries.

Tourism Malaysia rides on screen content for destination promotion, to entice viewers to come visit.

While the Maldives does not have an incentive scheme for film production, tourism minister Abdulla Mausoom expressed interest in heading down the screen track.

He told TTG Asia: “Features and documentaries will go a long way in promoting tourist destinations. As part of our efforts to establish the Maldives as a preferred shoot location, we are exploring the possibility of building a studio island by 2025, which would comprise production facilities and a resort. It would be a comprehensive offering for filmmakers,” said Mausoom.

Madubhani Perera, director of public relations, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, acknowledged the power of screen, particularly for raising the profile of lesser-known destinations among an international audience.

She said: “Recently, many producers from India were in Sri Lanka to scout for shoot locations. The government of Sri Lanka is looking to launch a single window application system to facilitate film production.”

A country’s pursuit of film production not only enhances the destination profile, it also breathes more life into the local film industry.

Hollywood and Netflix productions have benefitted Malaysian film makers, with studios in Johor being roped in for production work.

The Gold Coast, Australia, which has a massive screen development – with renowed film writer Baz Luhrmann relocating his production company HQ to the Gold Coast to make his Elvis biopic and Village Roadshow investing in expansive studio lots – has earned the attention of business events related to the screen industry.

It secured three upcoming editions of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards, regarded as the Australian version of the Academy Awards. The destination will also host three years of Screen Forever, a business event that brings together local and international screen industry leaders across all genres and disciplines; the first edition was held in March 2022.

Hotels reap rewards too. Dmitri Cooray, deputy managing director of Jetwing Hotels in Sri Lanka, said: “(Films) result in bulk booking and guaranteed business during the duration of the shoot. In the low tourist season, film shoots play a significant role in attracting business.”

Cooray said his properties offer special prices for production houses looking to film onsite, and are open to buy-outs.

After Jetwing Saman Villas in Bentota was featured in the Indian web series Night Manager, the property saw a spike in Indian bookings.

Recognising the immense potential of film tourism, India launched the draft National Strategy on Film Tourism at the third G20 Tourism Working Group Meeting in May 2023.

The strategy aims to leverage India’s natural, heritage and cultural assets, as well as the expertise of the tourism and screen industries, to make India a global destination for film tourism.

“Movies lead to a favourable recall for a shooting destination and therefore supports tourism. Film tourism impacts all stakeholders, from destinations to tour operators,” said Nakul Anand, chairman, Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality.

He added: “The location where a film is shot gets the additional benefits of investments, jobs and taxes, which all contribute to the country’s economic development.”

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