When bookworms come to visit: making the most of literary tourism

By Phoebe Wynne

The Elephant House in Edinburgh is a quaint café decorated, as the name suggests, with elephant paraphernalia. At any given time you will see a queue of people outside – and you may think to yourself are elephants that popular? However, what you are in fact witnessing is literary tourism (defined as visiting places that allows one to connect with an author or their body of work) turning an ordinary location into a thriving tourist attraction, for this once- ordinary café was the site where J. K Rowling penned the first chapters of Harry Potter and hundreds of fans of the book flock here to pay homage to their favourite author.

I confess, I am a literary tourist (how could I not be, being the daughter of a librarian). But growing up in Australia I was far removed from Austen’s Bath, Brontë’s moor and Dickens’ London and so since moving to the UK I have on many occasions been the enthusiastic (and, I admit, sometimes die-hard) literary tourist. I am not alone.

Literary tourism is a key market for international tourism – data from DiscoverEngland shows that 46% of overseas visitors have visited ‘somewhere linked to film/TV/book’ while on any overseas trip in the past 3-5 years. A survey conducted by BDRC Continental on behalf of VisitScotland, shows that a notable proportion of visitors from the USA, Canada and Australia were prompted to visit Scotland in 2016 because of a book they had read.

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With 2017 marking a number of important literary events (such as the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Death, the 75th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s the Famous Five and 20 years since the first Harry Potter book), there is an opportunity for destinations across the UK to make the most of literary tourism and I have a few key suggestions for destinations looking to do so.

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VisitEngland has marked 2017 as the ‘Year of Literary Heroes’ and is encouraging destinations across England to inform them of any literary connections which they will then promote in their press activity and across their channels to visitors and consumers. VisitEngland has also created the hashtag #BookEngland that destinations can use to promote their literary tourism products.

It’s all about location, location, location!

Literary tourists want to know the exact spot that may have inspired an author or the exact place a story was set and it is essential to equip these book-lovers with this knowledge in order to make their pilgrimage complete. VisitScotland has recognised this and acted accordingly. The book series Outlander has motivated a large volume of fans to visit Scotland in order to see the places that inspired its author Diana Gabaldon, and so VisitScotland has created a map for visitors to find locations that inspired the book and locations used for the TV adaptation.

Authenticity is key

While the Elephant House openly advertises itself as ‘The birthplace of Harry Potter’, the elephant theme still dominates the café as it did 20 odd years ago when J K Rowling began to write the first few chapters of the book. And indeed, this is precisely what we diehard literary enthusiasts want - authenticity. We want to be transported to the time and place our favourite stories were penned that would indeed be recognisable to the author themselves (though in the case of Dickens fans, we do recognise there are limitations to the extent of how authentic the experience can be!)

Monitor motivations

To make the most of your literary tourism offer, it is important to understand who is visiting your site and what their motivations are, to make sure your offer is matching up with their expectations and develop it accordingly.  At BDRC Continental, we conduct research for attractions looking to understand precisely this. So please do get in touch if you want to develop your audiences, whoever they may be - literary or otherwise!

And finally….embrace their enthusiasm

Before I sign off, I do need to warn you that we book lovers can be quite intense, as the Elephant House found out when fans began to scrawl declarations of love and admiration for J. K Rowling and Harry Potter on the bathroom walls (staff used to paint over such messages, but have conceded that it’s a waste of time as fans still wrote on the newly painted walls). I am not suggesting that destinations allow visitors to graffiti walls, but I implore you to embrace their enthusiasm and love of literature for they, and you, will be thankful.

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