Between its many filming locations, Game of Thrones has inspired tourism around the world. Fans have flocked to places like Dubrovnik, Croatia and Belfast, Northern Ireland to walk in the footsteps of their favorite characters and visit the iconic locations from the show.
But while tourism is great, and it’s pumped a lot on money into places like Northern Ireland, there can be a downside, namely the cost to the environment.
A good example is how the Dark Hedges of Northern Ireland, which stood in for the Kingsroad on the show, are dying, partially because of tourists flooding the area and partially because the stately trees that line the hedges are really really old. And this isn’t just a Game of Thrones problem. NBC News reports on locations like Thailand’s Maya Beach, which was featured in the 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach, being closed until 2021 after visitors spoiled its coral reefs and white sand. Iceland’s Fjadrárgljúfur canyon is now sealed off from visitors who descended upon it after they saw it in Justin Bieber’s music video for “I’ll Show You.”
The managing director of the Center for Responsible Travel, Samantha Bray, doesn’t see this problem solving itself. “I think this will get worse until destinations take action and set limits,” she said. But this is the age of Instagram and flight deals. There are plenty of ways to reach faraway destinations, and more reason to than before.
To put this thought into perspective, look no further than the Philadelphia International Airport, which now has American Airlines flights that go directly from Philly to Dubrovnik (which long stood in for King’s Landing) until September 29, according to The Philly Voice. That’s how serious and intense the love for Game of Thrones is, folks.
In an attempt to control the influx of tourists coming in, countries and cities have tried to put restrictions in place. For example, Dubrovnik mayor Mato Franković has installed a cap of 4,000 tourists at any given moment as part of his “Respect for the City” plan. By doing so, the hope is to preserve old landmarks (and keep the Old City as an UNESCO World Heritage Site).
On the other hand, tourism is desirable because of how much money it brings in to a local economy. It’s been a particular boon for Northern Ireland, where it’s brought jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. Tourists pay money to see the Northern Inuit dogs who played the direwolf pups on the show. HBO is leaving up the sprawling King’s Landing set it build at Titanic Studios as a tourist attraction, and of course, the success of Game of Thrones has attracted lots of interest from Hollywood. “You can’t really overstate the difference between the screen industry in Northern Ireland before Game of Thrones and the screen industry after Game of Thrones,” said Richard Williams, chief executive of Northern Ireland Screen, which promotes the local film and television industry.
Caelan Mulhall, who appeared as a Stark soldier extra on the show, puts it like this: “Every time a plane flies overhead, my dad says, ‘Look, more tourists!’” That has drawbacks, but it’s also given an economic boost to a region that was once best known for its history of sectarian violence.
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It’s difficult to weigh the pros and cons of this sort of tourism. Is the economic boost worth the environmental drawbacks? What do you think?