I’m going to make a bold statement: Film is the most powerful driver of tourism in the world. Think about it. When you think of New Zealand, what comes to mind? For me, it’s The Lord of the Rings’ Shire, Mordor, and Gondor. When I think of the American West, I think of Westerns, Pixar’s Cars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Films and television shape the way we see our world and the parts of it we want to see for ourselves.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the travel and tourism sector contributed 10.3% to global GDP in 2019. While that number decreased due to the pandemic, it has already rebounded in 2021. The global tourism sector is responsible for 289 million jobs, approximately one out of every 11 jobs, and, when accounting for all direct, indirect, and induced jobs, that number rises to one in every four jobs! Over the next 10 years, WTTC anticipates the sector to add 126 million new jobs, more than double the global economy GDP rate of growth. Furthermore, American tourists traveling domestically spent a combined $731.5 billion in 2021. Travel and tourism are vital pieces of both our global and local economies. Finding the best ways to leverage Arkansas as a destination is crucial to the overall health of our state economy.
Destinations featured in film or TV see an average increase in tourism of 45% in the year following the release of the production, with a 40-50% sustained increase over the subsequent four years. In 2017, 80 million tourists reported their choice in destination was motivated by films or TV. While it could take time to build up the type of industry that produces iconic, destination-defining films and TV series, there are steps we can take right now to increase film tourism in the state. These steps also have the added potential to draw more production to the state, beginning a healthy cycle of production and tourism.
To begin drawing more film tourism to the state right now, we can support our state’s offerings of film festivals, including our own Filmland. When supported by local government and tourism authorities, film festivals can bring in between 30% and 92% of their attendees from out of town, filling up hotels, eating at local restaurants, and shopping in local small businesses. Additionally, film festivals (with Filmland as no exception) spend the majority of their budgets locally, contributing to the local economy, while also contributing to state and local revenue through income and hotel occupancy taxes. Additionally, festivals draw in filmmakers from around the world to their host city as guests, which has shown to increase the likelihood those filmmakers will return to produce a future project in the region.
We already have the tools in our toolkit to raise the profile of our state, we just have to use them. Festival organizers should encourage their local convention and visitors bureaus to add the festival to their nationwide and regional marketing plans. Arkansans should attend not just their local festivals, but try out a festival somewhere else in the state and encourage your friends to do the same, whether they live in Camden or Cameroon. Making our state the best place to live and work will take all of us, so snag your tickets, hit the road, grab the popcorn, and watch some movies!
At ACS, we believe that if we provide filmmakers an arena to exhibit their talents, and film enthusiasts a healthy diet of quality programming, we can inspire more Arkansans to make and watch more films. By supporting filmmakers, festivals, theaters and young people interested in filmmaking throughout the state, we hope to create statewide network, pool Arkansas’s resources and be an umbrella organization that feeds all things film. We believe a rising tide lifts all boats.
To be a filmmaker, we have to connect to create. A painter needs a brush, paint and a canvas. A director needs a writer, a cinematographer, a sound mixer, production designer, editor, actors, distributors, and an audience. We cannot do it alone. This art form forces one to collaborate and thus, creates jobs. Filmmaking is unique in the arts in this way. It takes an army.