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Series 4 of the HBO television series Game of Thrones has just started. Whether you’re a fan of the drama, or have never heard of it, the economic impact on the local economies of places used as film locations is hard to ignore.

Based on the book A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin and set in a fantasy world of medieval character, it was first aired April 2011 in the US. Game of Thrones has since gathered momentum and is now viewed in 50 countries (according to Wikipedia – view the full entry here). Locations used for filming have benefitted from an influx of globetrotting tourists keen to experience its mystical lands. Filming of the wide ranging landscapes has taken place in Morocco, Croatia, the United States, Iceland, Malta, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Castle Ward in Northern Ireland was used to create Winterfell – the castle complex home to the Kings of the North. The National Trust website comments, ‘…the location fees support a variety of operational projects to help with conservation of the property and assist the Castle Ward team with the continuous care of this special place.’

Shane’s Castle in Northern Ireland was used to create the tourney grounds, and Doune Castle of Stirling, Scotland, was used in the pilot episodes for the internal and external shots of Winterfell.

It has been recently claimed by the Argyll News the Northern Ireland economy has benefitted by the impact of the filming of the Game of Thrones to the tune of £65 million – see the full article here.

Heritage and Tourism

More generally the economic impact of heritage as a pull for tourism is summarised in the English Heritage document Heritage and Growth, available from the English Heritage website, here. The principles of the impact of tourism on heritage sites in the United Kingdom in the report, are likely to be of a similar pattern in Northern Ireland.

The report states, ‘Heritage allows the UK to benefit from the expanding international tourism market driven by development and globalisation’. Certainly visitors to the Game of Thrones sites are international – particularly since the series has to date seen greater popularity in countries other than Great Britain – a drama series with global appeal.

The economic impact of heritage tourism is reported to be wide reaching and the report states, ‘On average, half of the jobs created by historic visitor attractions are not on the site, but in the wider economy’. Think spin-off activities from Game of Thrones – such as archery, costume making, weaponry.

Historic sites given new purpose and meaning through popular culture is seemingly difficult to predict and probably feels to those managing the sites as random as a lottery win. And what of the changed future of the ‘chosen few’? Increased revenue may make the long term more secure, with possibly greater opportunity for preservation of the property. What a property can offer visitors by way of inspiration for imagined worlds – whether based in reality or otherwise – I believe cannot be valued. Escapism or truism, having stones to touch and spaces to wander through has wide global appeal and is something people from different cultures and walks of life can all share and enjoy.

I, unfortunately, don’t have Sky. I must wait until the box set is released – and avoid at all cost spoilers that may be on the journey ahead. It will be tough but I’ll pace myself by re-watching Series 1, 2 and 3 – and maybe plan a trip to Northern Ireland whilst I’m at it.