June 23, 2009
Travel agents are offering tours of showbiz-related destinations and fans of movies and TV shows are lapping them up
By cheryl tan
You might not think the slums of Mumbai are an exciting must-see tourist attraction.
But land operator STA Travel has put together a special package for those interested in seeing these poverty-stricken areas of the Indian capital. And there is interest, sparked by last year's Oscar-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire.
For half a day, travellers can get a close-up view of slum living on a walking tour with a trained English-speaking guide. Visitors will also get to find out more about the slums' history and social issues that plague their dwellers and street children.
STA Travel marketing manager Timothy Su said that such tours appeal to those who may be 'more interested in relating what they see on television or online' to the destination.
Its Slumdog-themed walking tour is a new add-on option to its regular Mumbai tours which last between six and 10 days.
STA Travel is not the only travel agency here to borrow a bit of showbiz glitz to sell its tour packages.
Additional land tours that offer movie-buff travellers a behind-the-scenes experience of their favourite television shows or blockbusters are hot with agencies and tourists alike.
Such add-on features are either worked into the main itinerary by major travel agencies such as Chan Brothers, CTC Holidays and SA Tours, or offered as an optional day activity by smaller agents who allow their customers to modify tours to suit their preferences.
More niche market-driven agents such as STA Travel and Contiki Holidays usually offer more specialised tours which come with a trained guide who knows enough about the show and locations to dish out gossip and trivia about the show.
STA Travel's Mr Su added that organising a tour to the slums is also a way of giving the locals an avenue to earn income, especially when they open up their homes to visitors during the tour.
He said: 'We want people to find out more and not just see things on the surface.'
He added that the agency's core customer group of those aged 35 and younger 'do not always wish to go for the mainstream sightseeing tours'.
'They desire an exciting experience, something they can brag about to their friends.'
Mr Su was unable to provide the exact number of sign-ups for his agency's add-on tours, but he said the agency's excursions were 'well-received by customers'.
Other than having a unique travel story to tell, it is the thrill of being on a film set that spurs some travellers to add such visits to their itineraries.
Financial adviser Jessica Lee queued up outside a television studio in Taiwan with her friends two years ago just to watch a live recording of popular variety show Guess Guess Guess.
The programme, which is popular among youngsters here, features Taiwanese funnyman Jackie Wu.
She said: 'You watch him on TV, you want to experience it for yourself.'
The 23-year-old admitted to being influenced by shows and movies when it comes to making travel plans. She is now shopping for an Angels & Demons tour to Rome after watching the recently released Hollywood blockbuster, which stars Tom Hanks as a professor who gets caught up in a Vatican conspiracy.
Intrigued by the stories behind the cathedrals and churches that were featured in the movie, Ms Lee said: 'I thought Rome was supposed to be a romantic city. The movie just gives you an added push to go there.'
Other than visiting film locations, Contiki Holidays, which started offering such day tours about three years ago, has optional activities that include paparazzi-type guided bus tours to view the homes of Hollywood stars in Los Angeles.
Director of sales (Asia) Nicholas Lim said: 'These optional add-ons add to the flavour of the trip. It gives our clients and fans, who are aged between 18 and 35, a fun and memorable experience when touring with us.'
Such glitzy offerings can drive visitor numbers, as seen by the Korean wave of hit dramas more than five years ago which inspired the bigger travel agents here to offer visits to the film locations of popular Korean idol dramas.
SA Tours spokesman Ruth Lim said: 'The Korean drama series have paved the way for such visits to scenic spots and popular attractions where shows were filmed at.'
CTC Holidays spokesman Alicia Seah said that demand for Korean tours has jumped by at least 300 per cent since the start of the K-wave.
Ms Lim added that SA Tours also sees more inquiries about other movie destinations, especially when a distinctive Hollywood movie such as The Da Vinci Code (2006) is released.
The sights featured in movies are usually popular tourist attractions already included in tour itineraries. But a movie hit, especially a Hollywood blockbuster, gives tour leaders a chance to work in movie trivia and get their travellers more excited about a destination.
For Chan Brothers, including popular filming sites in a tour package is a value-added service.
Spokesman Jane Chang said: 'Riding on the publicity generated by the movie's release helps to promote the tour package by increasing destination awareness and encouraging movie buffs to visit the original filming sites personally.'
CTC's Ms Seah, however, added that such special movie-related visits also suffer from sustainability. The agency used to offer special The Da Vinci Code tours to Paris and a Lord of The Rings tour to New Zealand. But the service stopped when the hype for such tours died down.
She pointed out that while Korean destinations are still in hot demand, movie-related destination fever sparked by Hollywood movies such as The Mummy (1999) and Australia (2008) led to a more modest increase of about 20 per cent in demand for tours to Egypt, Perth and Darwin where these films were shot.
For hard-core Korean fans like customer service representative Joline Ho, the abundant itinerary offerings of attractions and sights featured in Korean drama serials are a boon.
The 37-year-old, who went on a tour to Jeju Island recently with her husband, said she had been enticed by the destination's pretty scenery in popular Korean dramas such as All In (2003) and Jewel In The Palace (2003).
The volcanic island, which sits 130km from the coast of South Korea, is commonly featured as a popular holiday getaway for South Korean couples in romantic dramas.
Madam Ho joked: 'I also wanted to spice up my love life like in the shows.'
Slum Land Tour
Price: From $117 a person
Movie highlights: The half-day tour explores the Mumbai slums in Slumdog Millionaire and offers a peek at the red-light district that was also a film location.
The Da Vinci Code
Price: From $44 a person
Movie highlights: Relive exciting scenes in the movie with a Da Vinci Code expert guide who will help point out every clue, stone and painting mentioned in the best-selling novel or movie. The two-hour walking tour includes a Da Vinci Code cheat sheet that retraces the steps of the movie's heroes at the Louvre.
Sex And The City Hotspots
Where: New York City
Price: From $65 a person
Movie highlights: Fans of the chick-flick series can visit the show's film sites on board a luxury tour bus. The three-hour tour narrative includes behind-the-scenes gossip and trivia about the show.
Soprano Sites Tour
Where: New York City
Price: From $68 a person
Movie highlights: Check out more than 40 places where the award-winning HBO drama series about a mobster family was filmed on a half-day guided bus tour.
The OC Experience*
Where: Los Angeles
Price: US$47 (S$68)
Movie highlights: Spend a day at Newport Beach, which served as a location for the Fox Television teen hit series. Get ready for some star-gazing as well. The area is also home to sports and Hollywood celebrities.
Movie Stars' Homes*
Where: Los Angeles
Movie highlights: Hop on this fully narrated two-hour bus ride that will take you on a drive-by tour to view more than 40 celebrity-owned homes belonging to stars such as Britney Spears, John Travolta and Leonardo DiCaprio. You might only be able to get pictures of their heavily gated houses but you could get lucky and see them in person.
Hollywood Behind-the-Scenes Tour*
Movie highlights: Visit all the famous Hollywood landmarks such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Hollywood sign with a guided tour.
*Land tours are optional activities that can be added to Contiki main tours to Los Angeles and New York.
CHAN BROTHERS TRAVEL
6/8 Days Exquisite Korea and Hong Kong
Price: From $1,334 a person (including Cathay Pacific flight)
Movie highlights: Take a boat ride to Nami Island, the film site of popular 2002 Korean drama serial Winter Sonata. Visit Hong Ik University Street and pop by the cafe where Korean romantic comedy serial The 1st Shop Of Coffee Prince (2007) was filmed.
8 Days Natural New Zealand North Island and Farmstay
Price: From $3,060 a person (including Singapore Airlines flight)
Movie highlights: Travel to rural town Matamata and see the remnants of the Hobbiton movie set where The Lord Of The Rings trilogy was filmed.
11 Days Eastern Europe Highlights
Price: From $3,503 a person (including Turkish Airlines flight)
Movie highlights: Visit the Jewish Quarter in Krakow where the movie Schindler's List (1993) was filmed.
15/16 Days Europe Spotlight
Price: $4,676 (including Singapore Airlines flight)
Movie highlights: Visit the Colosseum in Rome and Vatican City's Saint Peter's Basilica which are shown in movie blockbuster Angels & Demons. Places featured in The Da Vinci Code movie such as the Arc De Triomphe monument and Champs-Elysees Avenue are also included in the Paris leg of the tour.
3 Days Experience Venetian Macao land tour
Price: From $368
Movie highlights: The luxury resort hotel served as a two-week filming location for the Korean hit television drama Boys Over Flowers.
For packages that include air tickets, prices include taxes and fuel surcharges.