Fan Tourism: FANtastic or FANatic?


Forget world heritage site designations. Forget landmarks. Forget national parks. Today, what tourists are flocking to see are the sites in their favorite books, movies and TV series, with tour companies quick to leverage the “celebrity cachet” of certain destinations even as their residents often shun the sudden attention.

Fan tourism has been in the news a lot lately, but it is nothing new. For years visitors to Acapulco and Miami have frequented the hotels where Hollywood stars such as Frank Sinatra were reported to stay, while Jack Kerouac’s On the Road has served as a tour guide for many a cross-country traveler. My youngest sister, who lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, where the teen drama series Dawson’s Creek was filmed beginning in the late 90s, said fans often came to town in the hope of running into a cast member. And the celebrity draw is even powerful for destinations that don’t need fan tourism at all, as Gil Pender, the protagonist in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, demonstrates as his favorite literary characters of the 20s come to life as he explores the French capital.

Naturally, tour companies have sprouted up right and left to take advantage of the fan tourism trend. The Celebrity Planet’s Superhero Tour of New York, for example, takes tourists to the sites where their favorite Spiderman, Fantastic Four and Superman scenes were filmed. As a native New Yorker, I found the idea of such theme tours completely ridiculous… until, of course, I remembered how I had forced a British friend to drive me through the Oxford countryside to find the school where scenes from Harry Potter were supposedly filmed.

The problem with fan tourism is that some of the attractions don’t want to be attractions at all. A resident of a formerly sleepy North Carolina town where the movie “The Hunger Games” was filmed complained to the Financial Times that he was “getting too many visitors…Day and night, they’re driving through, taking pictures, getting out and walking. I’m just bombarded with people.” I am sure people unlucky enough to live on the same street as the suburban N.Y. house featured in The Amityville Horror are still bothered by curious visitors more than three decades after the movie’s release. And how about the residents of Abu Dhabi, who are forced to tell visitors asking to see scenes from Sex in the City that the filming was actually done in Morocco?!

Another drawback to fan tourism is the desire for some destinations to change their very nature in order to cater to the stereotypes visitors may have of them. I thought it was a bit much when the village of North Tarrytown, New York, where many events of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow took place, named its high school teams "The Horsemen,” commissioned a large statue depicting the Headless Horseman chasing Ichabod Crane, and even ushered in an annual Legend Weekend featuring a rider portraying the headless horseman and a storyteller retelling The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But change its name to Sleepy Hollow? Now, that’s going way too far.

A few months back, a friend of mine told me she caught a glimpse of my house on the HGTV series “Property Virgins.” Could that be why so many people have been lingering outside lately?