Eat, Pray, Watch Movies: How Film Tourism Gets People Hooked On a Country

After the box office success of “Ada Apa Dengan Cinta 2,” many local tourists, and also a considerable number of the film’s diehard fans from Malaysia, have flocked to Yogyakarta and Magelang — where most of the film was shot — to check out all the supposedly romantic places legendary on-screen couple Rangga (Nicholas Saputra) and Cinta (Dian Sastrowardoyo) visited in the movie.

These fanboys (and fangirls) now can’t get enough of Punthuk Setumbu, Pigeon Church, Pak Bari’s Satay Depot and Coffee Café — places you barely even hear the names of before the movie was released.

The film did make it a point to advertise these places during its screening. At its premiere in Yogyakarta, a small map was given out to the audience containing directions to all the places, cafes, restaurants and galleries that Rangga and Cinta went to in the movie.

The way Ada Apa Dengan Cinta 2 boosts tourism in Yogyakarta and Magelang mirrors the effect another Indonesian film, Laskar Pelangi — also directed by Riri Riza, had on Bangka and Belitung. The number of visitors to these picturesque islands practically doubled after the release of the movie, which featured many scenes showing pristine beaches and picturesque grasslands.

Other films that have worked wonders as ersatz tourism commercials are, of course, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was shot in New Zealand. At times it seems the spectacular New Zealand scenery — full of jagged mountain peaks and green rolling hills — was the strongest character in the movie (after the orcs). Thanks to Peter Jackson’s magnum opus, the land of the long white clouds has now earned a new nick name: The Middle Earth.

LOTR fans can now go on various “Middle Earth” tours to explore the various locations where the movie was shot. In fact, in 2013 the country came up with the “100% Middle Earth” slogan to complement its long-running “100% New Zealand” tourism campaign.

The eight Harry Potter films have also done wonders for tourism in the United Kingdom. Tourists even now still queue for hours to take selfies at the fake Platform 9 3/4 at the King Cross Station in London (the imaginary platform where Harry Potter used to take the Hogwarts Express to his campus).

Glen Croy, an academic from Monash University in Melbourne, has argued that films have always had an enormous influence on tourism in history. Films, Croy argues, not just pull in more tourists but also shape their experiences and change the image of a tourist destination faster than a pile of tourism brochures.

Tourism driven by a film is now often referred to as “film tourism,” a new form of tourism that travelers from all over the world can’t get enough of.

Film tourism can have significant long-term benefits to a country’s economy, if taken advantage of in the right way. According to a study in the UK by Oxford Economic in 2007, one out of ten international tourists came to visit the UK as a result of watching the country depicted in films and spent 1.8 billion pounds in the country in 2006 alone.

Aside from splurging during their travels up and down the country, the tourists also helped create over 20,000 new jobs and contributed an additional 900 million pounds ($1.2 billion) to the UK’s national income.

In 2010, the film “Eat, Pray, Love” starring Julia Roberts was released. It was shot in New York, Rome, Naples, Delhi, Pataudi, and Ubud and Padang-Padang Beach in Bali.

Many foreign tourists visit Bali after that movie to recreate Elizabeth Gilbert’s adventures in the island, mostly spent attending yoga classes and getting immersed in the tropical nature. Thanks partly to the movie, Bali managed to change its modern reputation as a party island back to its old spiritual self. Witness the popularity of Ketut Liyer, the medicine man featured in the movie. Before his death in June this year, the queue of people waiting to get their fortune read still snaked outside his home in Pengosekan.

From reel tourism to real tourism

The Indonesian government has indicated it intends to make tourism one of Indonesia’s core economies. A World Travel and Tourism Council 2015 report showed that in 2014 tourism contributed more than Rp 3oo billion to the country’s GDP, 3.2% out of its total GDP. The number is forecast to rise by 5.3% annually.

Tourism created more than three million jobs in 2014. Foreign tourists spent almost 80 percent of their budget on leisure activities, while domestic tourists still made up over 75% of the spending.

Considering that leisure activities still prove popular with both foreign and domestic tourists, film tourism — which can combine leisure with many other types of activity — seems like as good a strategy to attract more visitors to “wonderful Indonesia” as any.

In practice, the government has to come up with a good script for this to happen. The Ministry of Tourism can use both local and foreign films to promote tourism in Indonesia, and to do this they have to establish partnerships with production houses. They can hire big-name directors to helm commercial films set in Indonesia or about Indonesian cultures, with the ultimate goal of getting bums on seats to watch all the good things Indonesia has to offer.

And if all things fail, they can always hire a famous movie star to be Indonesia’s “brand ambassador.”

Since a box office hit is never a guarantee when making a film, the government can also make use of smaller shows on TV, especially culinary and travel shows. Shows like “Running Man” and “Wisata Kuliner” reportedly have already had good impact on local tourism.

In short, using films to promote tourism in a country is now simply de rigeur, something that the government should start doing immediately to keep up with the times. It can’t afford to wait until “164 purnama” (164 months) — the exact amount of time fans of the original Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? had to wait for the sequel.


Taruna Fadillah and Tarinadiyya Shaliha are both students at the University of Queensland, Australia. Taruna is also a member of the Indonesian Students Association (PPI) at the university.


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