How Game Of Thrones' Fans Are Revitalizing Northern Ireland's Economy
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
This next story is about set-jetters - not jetsetters. Set-jetters are people who travel the world, visiting the places that movies and TV shows are filmed. And because our experiences about the world are so rooted in what we see on screens, places that are seeking to reinvent themselves are taking note. In Northern Ireland, known for its history of sectarian violence, set-jetters are reviving the economy at a time when Brexit is threatening it. Joanna Kakissis has our story.
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JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: It's raining on the Irish coast, and that's a dramatic backdrop if you're reliving a swordfight...
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KAKISSIS: ...In one of the most successful television series ever, "Game Of Thrones." Thelma Okocho came from New York City to stand on the rocky shore where Jaime Lannister killed Euron Greyjoy. She chokes up.
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THELMA OKOCHO: I really love the show so much. And it's like, being here where they shot it, you're just like, wow. Like, oh, my God (laughter). Like, it's beautiful.
KAKISSIS: Okocho is on a "Game Of Thrones" tour, one of roughly 20 in Northern Ireland. Peter Bolan of Ulster University says around 350,000 "Game Of Thrones" tourists are expected this year. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on screen tourism.
PETER BOLAN: That's hugely important to Northern Ireland economically, and it's particularly important at the current time because of looming things on the horizon like Brexit.
KAKISSIS: It's also put Northern Ireland on the map for something other than The Troubles, the bloody conflict between Catholics and Protestants that ended in 1998 with a peace agreement.
BOLAN: Screen tourism, particularly through "Game Of Thrones," has enabled Northern Ireland to almost reinvent itself, in a sense, in terms of how some potential tourists see Northern Ireland. And they have seen everything from the scenery and the landscape to the Northern Ireland people and their creativity and so on in a very different light.
KAKISSIS: Not all "Game Of Thrones" locales are thrilled about screen tourism. Dubrovnik in Croatia wants to ban new restaurants so set-jetters don't flood its old walled city. In the show, it's King's Landing. But Thelma Okocho feels very welcome in Northern Ireland, where she's following the footsteps of her favorite character.
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MAISIE WILLIAMS: (As Arya Stark) A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I am going home.
KAKISSIS: What did you like about her?
OKOCHO: She's fierce. She didn't conform to what society thinks a woman should be like. She wanted to be tough. I love that.
KAKISSIS: Okocho stared at the landing where Arya escaped a would-be assassin, then looked up at the lush, craggy Irish coastline.
KAKISSIS: Look at this.
OKOCHO: Oh, my God. It's stunning.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Cheers, everybody.
KAKISSIS: Along that coast is the fishing village of Ballintoy...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hiya, folks.
KAKISSIS: ...Where the local pub, Fullerton Arms, is packed with set-jetters eating one of Arya Stark's favorite beef and ale pies. I flagged down manager Louise McMullan.
Has it been good for your business?
LOUISE MCMULLAN: Very good, yeah. It's been really good for the whole north coastline. Yeah, it doesn't seem to stop.
KAKISSIS: Outside the pub, the set-jetters pose in front of a carved door depicting the dragon of the Targaryens. Tour guide Richard Hodgen snaps photos.
RICHARD HODGEN: It is very good now to be known for positive things. It's great to see people coming here. Honestly, it really does fill my heart with pride that I get to see everybody here every day.
KAKISSIS: Hodgen was one of the many Northern Irish who also worked as extras and body doubles on "Game Of Thrones."
HODGEN: A lot of people felt the interest would go down, but it's actually increased. They're coming to see Westeros, which is all around us as we stand here.
KAKISSIS: A windswept beach soon fills with tourists wearing leather vests and wielding swords - real ones.
That's quite a sword you got.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Laughter).
KAKISSIS: Winter is coming, and so are the set-jetters.
For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Westeros or Northern Ireland. Take your pick.
(SOUNDBITE OF RAMIN DJAWADI'S "GAME OF THRONES")
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