by Graham Huggan
Like many of my compatriots in the UK, I’ve spent the last month or so trapped by Trapped, the hit Icelandic crime-drama TV series that is living up its name in so many different ways. Even cast and crew were trapped several times during location filming in the snowbound northern Icelandic fishing town of Siglufjörður (Iceland Magazine, Feb. 10, 2016). The town is now expected to benefit from a tourism boom as a result of the series, which is in turn riding the wave created by The Killing and Fortitude, the latter itself shot in Iceland though notionally set in Svalbard––another reminder that in the popular Arctic imaginary, all remote wintry places are more or less interchangeable, and are preferably apportioned in equal measure to brooding men and hungry bears. (Iceland has long been a Hollywood favourite for such icy jaunts, providing the suitably windswept setting for such unashamedly exotic fodder as Game of Thrones and the James Bond vehicle, Die Another Day.)
While not directly connected to Trapped, a new hotel is due to open in Siglufjörður this June (2016), with business expected to be brisk as tourists, already visiting in their thousands fresh off the Norraena (a real-life ferry in a fictional series) flock to Trapped’s various film locations and enjoy its spectacular sea-and-mountain setting while imagining getting one over, like some of the series’ locals, on those pampered types from the south (Iceland Magazine, Feb. 10, 2016). Could we be witnessing, as Katie Amey half-jokingly asks of the similarly successful Fortitude, a new ‘Broadchurch of the Arctic’? Certainly the numbers would suggest so, with Trapped pulling in well over a million viewers per episode (there are even higher numbers in other European countries, especially France).
Perhaps the best way of looking at the phenomenon is through the lens of film-induced tourism, the broadly accepted industry term for ‘tourist visits to a destination or attraction as a result of the destination’s being featured on television, video or in [movie] theatres’ (Nordicity 2013: 86; see also Beeton 2005, Hudson and Ritchie 2006). Film-induced tourism certainly is a phenomenon, with recent figures suggesting that a successful film or TV series can effectively double tourist numbers to a given destination within a matter of a few years (Nordicity 2013: 86). Some destinations are more sustainable than others, of course––not all films can match the fanatical followings of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter––but the evidence suggests that film-induced tourism is already a major player in the global tourism industry, whether the activities it inspires relate to the actual film locations (film location tourism), the imagined properties of the site (film setting tourism), or––in some cases––the opportunity of spotting a celebrity filmmaker or TV star in action (celebrity tourism: see Nordicity; also Basáñez 2011, Beeton 2005, Roesch 2009). Film-induced tourism, like so many other forms of tourism, relies on a blurring of boundaries between the real and the mythical, with tourists’ expectations eagerly fuelled (and in turn expertly marketed) by the promise of encountering a familiar yet unmistakably ‘other’ world. It’s not surprising that the Arctic––which is nothing if not a richly imagined world––has attracted its fair share of film-induced tourists, though the costs and logistics of Arctic travel remain a deterrent: hence the appeal of Iceland, which, if still expensive, is still relatively easy to get to, and which offers a variety of simulated ‘Arctic experiences’ for those unable to travel further––or those perfectly willing to let their second-hand experiences of ‘the Arctic’ stand in for the place itself.
What all of this suggests is that, in Rafael Basáñez’s words, film-induced tourism connects the ‘imaginary of the place’ to ‘the place of the imaginary’, with tourists avidly consuming–-and themselves recreating––the media-driven mythologies that paradoxically contribute to the authenticity of the real destinations they seek. If this is standard fare in contemporary tourism studies, which has grown accustomed to tracking the desires of successive generations of ‘post-everything’ tourists, the study of film-induced tourism still arguably lags behind the practice––in Iceland and elsewhere. Much remains to be done, not least in terms of ensuring that this particular branch of the global tourism industry develops sustainably. Whether the local inhabitants of Siglufjörður will be able to enjoy the trappings of success is moot, especially at a time when the Icelandic tourism industry is growing rapidly, with signs that both the industry itself––now increasingly reliant on outsourcing––and the local communities affected are being placed under considerable stress (Iceland Magazine, Sept. 29, 2015). Depending on the circumstances, film-induced tourism may have a considerable knock-on effect for local economies, especially those that are struggling, as is the case in many remote towns in northern Iceland. But their mid- to long-term effect on local people is less predictable; and at worst, all those TV millions may end up being another kind of trap.
Amey, Katie (2016) ‘“Dog sledding, polar bears and a boat frozen in ice: how Arctic Svalbard is the real-life Fortitude”:Dog sledding, polar bears and a boat frozen in ice: how Arctic Svalbard is the real-life Fortitude’, www.mailonline.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2931224/Visit-Arctic-town-Svalbard-expreience-real-life-Fortitude, accessed March 8, 2016.
Basáñez, Rafael (2011) ‘“Film-induced tourism: the imaginary of the place and the place of the imaginary”:www.academia.edu/1479324/Film-Induced_Tourism_The_Imaginary_of_Place_and-the-Place_of_the_Imaginary.’ www.academia.edu/1479324/Film-Induced_Tourism_The_Imaginary_of_Place_and-the-Place_of_the_Imaginary, accessed March 8, 2016.
Beeton, Sue. Film-induced Tourism, Bristol: Channel View Publications, 2005.
Hudson, Simon and J.R. Brent Ritchie (2006) ‘Film tourism and destination marketing: the case of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.’ Journal of Vacation Marketing 12.3 (2006): 256-268.
Iceland Magazine (2016) ‘“Here’s what you need to know about the Icelandic crime-drama “Trapped””:icelandmag.visir.is/article/heres-what-you-need-know-about-icelandic-crime-drama-trapped’, February 10, icelandmag.visir.is/article/heres-what-you-need-know-about-icelandic-crime-drama-trapped, accessed March 8, 2016.
Iceland Magazine (2015) ‘“Icelandic tourism industry forced to hire thousand foreign workers over the next few years”:icelandmag.visir.is/article/icelandic-tourism-forced-hire-thousand-foreign-workers-over-next-few-years’, September 29, icelandmag.visir.is/article/icelandic-tourism-forced-hire-thousand-foreign-workers-over-next-few-years, accessed March 8, 2016.
Nordicity (2013) ‘“The Economic Contribution to the Film and Television Sector in Canada”:www.nordicity.com/media/2013724dgfjbufnd.pdf’, www.nordicity.com/media/2013724dgfjbufnd.pdf, accessed march 8, 2016.