‘Hunger Games’: North Carolina Welcomes ‘Hungry’ Tourists

  @MarkJohansonIBT on March 23 2012 12:31 PM

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The Hunger Games was released in theaters Friday, March 23. Watch The Hunger Games trailer below.

The Hunger Games, the year's most anticipated film to date, was shot entirely on location in North Carolina, and the Tar Heel State is gearing up for its biggest movie-inspired tourism boom since Dirty Dancing hit theaters 25 years ago.

Unlike lighthearted Dirty Dancing, The Hunger Games isn't your typical tourism-booster. The plot is bleak at best and the setting is post-apocalyptic, but the film's feverish buzz is undeniable.

When 'Dirty Dancing' came out in 1987, we had a 25% increase in the volume of calls to the tourism office, said Wit Tuttell, Director of Tourism Marketing for the NC Division of Tourism. Now, most people use the Internet and we've seen a sharp rise in visitors to our website - and they're searching for 'Hunger Games'.

With 23.5 million books in print in the United States alone, the Suzanne Collins trilogy is hugely successful with an avid following that made the $80-million-dollar screen adaptation the most buzzed-about film of 2012. Shot over six months, the film showcases North Carolina's vast and varied landscape.

Tuttell said a lot of films and TV shows shoot in North Carolina, but he expects that The Hunger Games will have the same sort of sticking power that Dirty Dancing has. Twenty-five years later, American and European tourists still flock to Lake Lure to live out their Dirty Dancing dreams.

Tourism is a 17-billion-dollar industry in North Carolina, and anticipating swaths of hungry tourists, Tuttell and his team put together a package of resources online to aid North Carolina visitors eager for the Hunger Games experience from the post-apocalyptic setting of the Capitol where teens must duel to the starving ghettos of District 12.

The four-day suggested itinerary begins in Charlotte, North Carolina's increasingly sophisticated metropolis that was used as Capitol in the film. Other stops include the DuPont State Recreational Forest (used for several of the film's nature scenes), and the abandoned Henry River Mill Village near Hildebran (which stands in the Seam and the Mellark family bakery).

The state plays well with the movie, Tuttell said. It has modern cities like Charlotte but also small towns with historic flavor where you feel like you've gone back in time.

However, Tuttell cautions that several filming locations are on private property and others should be enjoyed from a safe distance (despite what you see in the film).

North Carolina hopes to capitalize on other aspects of the tourism industry that offer visitors a 'Hunger Games' experience. They suggest a visit to the Nantahala Outdoor Center which offers a Survival School that teaches first aid, animal tracking, and information on wild foods and medicinal plants. They also recommend visiting one of roughly a dozen ziplines in Western North Carolina that Rue would have loved.

For those that want to see the actors' hang-outs, the tourism board recommends several spots in Asheville like the Lexington Avenue Brewery, Wasabi, or the Laughing Seed.

We've taken into account all of these things, Tuttell said, what was shot, what the stars did, and experiences that can relate to the movie.

The Hunger Games interest goes beyond the domestic market; European companies have jumped on board too. Germany's FTI, for example, offers an eight-day, seven-night trip to North Carolina from the Appalachians to the Atlantic to explore important locations from the film.

The Hunger Games helped the state's film industry generate a record $220 million in spending for 2011 and North Carolina is eager to keep the franchise on board to finish out the trilogy. Around a dozen other films are currently in preparation, shooting, or wrapping up in North Carolina, including Iron Man 3.

The Hunger Games generated over $60 million in revenue for the state, but whether it will have the same tourism impact as Dirty Dancing remains to be seen.

One thing's for certain, people are talking about North Carolina.

Will you visit North Carolina to see The Hunger Games sites? Let us know in the comments below.

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