North Carolina did it with “The Hunger Games.” Scotland did it with “Brave.” Britain did it with “Skyfall.” New Zealand is doing it with “The Hobbit.” Now Virginia wants its slice of the film-tourism pie with Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”
To coincide with the wide release of Spielberg’s biopic, Virginia’s tourism board launched the “Lincoln Movie Trail” Thursday, a self-guided tour and interactive website to help movie and history buffs visit film locations and the bars, shops and restaurants where stars like Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt hung out during the shoot.
The entirety of Spielberg’s widely praised film was shot in the Old Dominion, and notable locations open to visitors in Richmond, the state capital, and in the nearby town of Petersburg, are now demarcated with a “Lincoln Was Here” symbol.
"Steven Spielberg's ‘Lincoln’ affords us tremendous opportunities to showcase the Richmond region in a unique way,” said Jack Berry, president and CEO of the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Berry said tours on offer “will allow visitors to follow in the footsteps of Lincoln and Spielberg via Segway, trolley or on foot.” Many restaurants, hotels and businesses have put together Lincoln-themed packages, special deals and even special menu items, Berry added.
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Rita McCleny, CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, said the anticipation for “Lincoln” has been building for years.
“We’re excited it’s finally here as Virginia has a starring role in the film,” she said.
Beyond the big-budget blockbuster, McCleny urged visitors to learn more about the historic sites in Virginia where President Lincoln himself stopped during the Civil War.
Tourism generates $20.4 billion in revenue for Virginia and directly supports 207,000 jobs, but like North Carolina or New Zealand, the state’s tourism drive is not only meant to attract more visitors, but to show off its budding film industry.
Thanks in no small part to “Lincoln” (and the state’s 15 to 20 percent tax incentives), the impact of the film and television industry in Virginia was $394.4 million in 2011, a 14.5 percent increase over the year before.
The growth of the two industries has often gone hand in hand as tourism boards piggyback on successful films to widen their reach.
Take New Zealand, for example. The "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy generated $2.9 billion in worldwide box-office receipts and another $3 billion in DVD and merchandising sales.
Hiring crew and equipment for the trilogy added about $261 million to New Zealand’s economy during a three-year period. It was also, in large part, responsible for a tourism windfall in the island nation.
The number of visitors surged 40 percent, to 2.4 million in 2006 from 1.7 million in 2000, the year before the first movie in the trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," hit theaters, thrusting a mythical version of the islands in front of a global audience.
Now the nation is at it again with the Hobbit movies, and it’s even forged a deal with Warner Bros. mandating that every DVD and download of “The Hobbit” feature a Peter Jackson-directed video promoting New Zealand as both a tourist and filmmaking destination.
For brand New Zealand, that was good as gold.
Now, several other nations (and states) around the world are following in New Zealand’s footsteps, forging partnerships with Hollywood to make the year’s biggest blockbusters synonymous with the locations in which they were shot. In turn, governments add incentives to make those films cheaper to produce.
Will it work for Virginia with “Lincoln”? That all depends on how big of a hit “Lincoln” becomes.