From reel interest to real vacation


When "Out of Africa" won Best Picture and other Oscars in 1985, it was more than a cinematic triumph for the movie's producers: It sparked an explosion for tour operators.

"Everybody will tell you that 'Out of Africa' caused a safari boom," said Russ Daggatt, marketing vice president of Mountain Travel, a tour company that specializes in upscale adventure travel.

Rosalie Maniscalco, manager of an American Express travel agency in Manhattan, concurred.

" 'Out of Africa' started a tremendous interest in people wanting to go to Africa," she said. "People who were into adventure travel, even novice [travelers], were just totally enraptured with the scenery and wanted to experience Africa."

The boom became so big that Abercrombie & Kent International, an Illinois-based tour operator specializing in adventure travel, not only named a safari after the film but also added a stop on its itineraries to the home of author Karen Blixen, on whom the movie was based. "Now, most of our safaris include a visit to the town of Karen, just outside of Nairobi, and the actual house she lived in. It's a good example of British colonial architectural lifestyle," said director of public relations Janice Wolf.

Films have a real affinity with travel. Both transport people to other worlds, one within the confines of a movie theater, the other in the form of vacations. Whether it's close-to-home urban skylines or faraway places, Hollywood creates enduring images for moviegoers -- a connection that travel companies and tourist bureaus have capitalized on for decades.

"If one picture is worth a thousand words, my God, a film will be equivalent to hundreds of thousands of words," said Ram Chopra, director of the Indian Government Tourist Office in New York. "[Films] do affect travel to a destination -- any film, whether it's a documentary or full-length movie."

Mr. Chopra said the 1982 film "Gandhi," in which Ben Kingsley won a Best Actor award for his portrayal of the country's most celebrated leader, prompted a big wave of interest in travel to India.

But no country experienced a bigger tidal wave of popularity than Australia, when comedian Paul Hogan put the continent in the American consciousness with " 'Crocodile' Dundee" in 1986. In the film, Mr. Hogan played a rugged adventurer (inspired by real-life outback tour operator Max Davidson), who runs a company called Never Never Tours and ultimately winds up taking his simple soul to New York City.

"People were calling up the tourist commission and asking how they could go about booking on Never Never Tours in the Outback," said Greg Wren, marketing manager of the Australian Tourist Commission. "I think that's certainly movie-making coming to life."

Mr. Wren noted that promotions for Australia were timed with the release of the film to create a market for letting "the 'Crocodile Dundee' experience become a reality."

But the wry, unsophisticated Hogan character now raises resistance among Australians who don't want to be stereotyped in that manner, Mr. Wren said.

But sometimes, films inspire travel to a particular destination in a more subtle way. American Express' Ms. Maniscalco found that people often aren't just going to see the scenery from a film -- they want to capture its spirit. For example, she said, men flocked to her travel office after the opening of "City Slickers" in 1991, a buddy comedy starring Billy Crystal about a midlife crisis that culminated in a cattle drive.

"It was a definite trend that has continued. People are going to Texas, Colorado, Montana and Utah. . . . They aren't really looking to rope cattle, they want a modified experience of it, maybe a ranch," she said.

Moviegoers are equally moved by modes of travel, Ms. Maniscalco added.

"If people see somebody [in a film] on the Orient Express in Europe, they'll come in and ask for it. Look what [the TV show] 'Love Boat' did for the cruise industry," she said.

"Raiders of the Lost Ark," starring Harrison Ford as world-class adventurer Indiana Jones, gave a boost to the adventure-travel market, noted Mountain Travel's Mr. Daggatt.

"It drew media attention to adventure with a capital 'A,' " he said.

Mr. Daggatt noted that films sometimes can spur his company to formulate particular tours. For example, after seeing the recently released "Indochine," he and others at Mountain Travel are contemplating a sea-kayaking trip near Haiphong harbor on the coast of Vietnam, an area where some of the more prominent scenes in the film take place.

"It's the first dramatic film of Vietnam that didn't focus on the war," he said. His company was also inspired to launch tours of the Nile after the 1990 film "Mountains of the Moon," about a 19th-century explorer's search for the source of the river.

Travel operators say it's difficult to predict what the next film-inspired travel destinations might be. Mr. Wren is hoping the love story "Flirting" will rekindle interest in rural Australia, while Mr. Daggatt believes that the beautifully photographed box-office dud, "K2," a mountaineering film, may spur an interest in base-camp treks to the Himalayan peak.

Abercrombie & Kent is eyeing Easter Island as a potentially hot destination. The company currently makes regular stops at the South Pacific island, where Kevin Costner is producing a film called "Rapa Nui," which is the original name of the island. But, Ms. Wolf said, it isn't only pretty scenery that captures the imagination for inspired travelers.

"The films that really cement the interests where people do start planning a vacation are a combination of everything. If you saw silent pictures, I don't think that would do it," she said. "When you tell a story about a place, that's what taps the people, gets under their skin. If they have any sense of adventure at all and the financial means, they find a way to go."

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