When Game of Thrones started, I wasn’t a parent, didn’t have a dog, a house, or even a wife yet. It’s incredible to see how much has changed during the nearly decade long run of the show. After so long, it’s finally over. While the debate on how it ended will likely continue for years, there’s no denying it had a huge impact on the world from a cultural standpoint, existing as one of the largest shared experiences in modern culture. But it also influenced a pretty massive area that will continue to impact the world for a longer time; travel.
Game of Thrones established a penchant for exhibiting dramatic locations and stunning landscapes from the first season. King’s Landing launched a tourism boom in Croatia that the country expects to continue for as long as they can milk it. Belfast, willing to invest huge tax incentives in the filming went from a relative lack of tourism to a glut of GoT related tours and adventures. When later seasons moved filming to Spain and Iceland, tourism picked up in these countries as well. It has such an influence and effect on tourism that Dubrovnik has limited cruise ships and reduced the number of tourists who can enter the walled old town during the height of tourism season.
Even when filming moved away from locations like Dubrovnik due to the difficulty and cost of closing down areas that were suddenly flush with tourists, people continue to flock to these locations while increasing visits to the new ones too. The Dorne subplot, while nearly meaningless to the plot of the actual show, gave viewers some incredible imagery of Southern Spain which sees increased tourism each year since. Even the less inspiring vistas like the “Battle of the Bastards” that took months of filming in the Northern Irish countryside resulted in more travelers heading to Northern Ireland.
For me, Game of Thrones became less about the characters over time, and more about the character of the locations. It gave inspiration with new places to visit. In 2015 we traveled to Croatia, partly to see the castles and streets of King’s Landing in Dubrovnik, and partly because the food looked incredible. We walked down the same alleys and steps as Cersei during the “shame” walk, mounted the city walls, ate overlooking the small rocky cove where nearly every important discussion was held over the first several seasons, and even found the Iron Throne in a tourist shop. In Split, we found the craggy mountainside castle Danenerys conquered in Mereen. It was an incredible country, and probably one we wouldn’t have made it too without the exposure the show brought to it.
In the same year, I also visited Northern Ireland and was taken in with the fantasy themed tourist attractions that had cropped up around Belfast in the few years it had been since I’d been there last. Jon Snow cutouts seemed to be in every window. Tshirts and figurines were in every shop. Even long lived tourist attractions like the natural stone formation of Giant’s Causeway was using GoT to advertise and attract visitors at the airport. It’s impossible to overstate how important the show was during its peak when it’s the first thing you see when you get off a plane.
This summer we plan to visit the South of Spain, another location frequented by the show, standing in for both the Kingdom of Dorne and parts of King’s Landing when filming in Croatia became too difficult. Again, it’s not the main reason we’re going, but we certainly plan to see all of the sights. Even now, locations like the palace gardens are marketed as the “Water Gardens of Dorne” on numerous websites. I might have otherwise skipped yet another palace and gardens, but how can I resist visiting the gardens of Dorne? The story associated with it is just too good to pass up. Like so many other locations from the show, having something that ties it to viewers’ associations with the show may be enough to drive massive tourism.
Even with a legacy that’s been thrown into question with the last season of the show’s writing and execution, there’s no question the show will continue to influence travel and drive show inspired tourism for some time. There are no signs of travel to Croatia slowing down. Even with a diminished role in the series after the first few seasons, the city continues to set visitation records each year and the city continues to take steps to reduce and manage tourism rather than risk unrecoverable damage. It’s easy to see the potential outcome of tourism left unchecked with Venice sinking further into the sea each year, and Dubrovnik wants to take every step to prevent a similar fate. But because of the success of the show, the crowds just keep increasing.
There’s no telling how much longer this effect will continue on the major locations from the show now that it’s officially ended. It doesn’t look like travel to Croatia, Spain, Ireland, or Iceland will tail off at all for quite some time and for at least the time being, look ready to increase. A show as massive and influential as GoT can become more than just water-cooler talk, it can actually get people to move around the world and see new sights they wouldn’t otherwise. Long after the show is over, the largest impact it will have had on me and others is inspiring a few additions to the bucket list and taking me to places far away and beautiful as they are on the show. What I’ll miss most is the weekly introduction to new verdant lands and potential travel destinations.