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Role and Development of Literary Tourism

Info: 3090 words (12 pages) Essay
Published: 18th May 2020 in Tourism

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Literary tourism occurs when authors or their literature become so popular that people are drawn to either those locations associated with the author (e.g. birthplace, home, graveside) or those featured within their writings (Busby & Klug, 2001). Literary tourism is when people travel to places that are associated with fictional texts and characters or authors. This may include things such as visiting an author’s grave, visiting a place where an author lives or did live, the location where a novel was set, or the route taken by a fictional character. Visiting such places allows literary enthusiasts to interact with the authors they admire insofar as they can see or touch objects or memorabilia associated with the authors (or their literature), an experience which is enhanced by the settings (Busby & Klug, 2001). Literary tourism has become a cultural phenomenon and has seen previously small and unexciting towns turn into world renowned attractions. Literary places attract both general heritage visitors as well as a niche segment of genuine literary pilgrims (Smith, 2003), whom Herbert (2001) characterises as well-educated tourists, ‘versed in the classics and with the cultural capital to appreciate and understand this form of heritage’. Despite literary tourism being considered a niche, it is of growing relevance within the field of cultural and heritage tourism. The demand for cultural holidays increased by 17% between 1997 and 2007 (Mintel, 2010) while the OECD and UNWTO (see Mintel, 2010) reported that cultural tourism accounted for 40% of all international tourism in 2007. Unfortunately, there remains no statistical data available on the scale or market size of literary tourism. The following essay is going to look into relevant research findings surrounding the development of the Hobbiton site in Matamata, New Zealand as a type of heritage tourism offering.


New Zealand plays host to one of the most popular sites in the world for literary tourism. J.R.R. Tolkien who was the author of the famous Hobbit and Lord of The Rings book series wasn’t from New Zealand, and Middle-Earth is not based on New Zealand, the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films have made it famous. You can find locations used in the film all over New Zealand, or visit Wellington, the home of Peter Jackson, the film’s director. One tour in particular allows tourists to stay in hobbit like homes while they tour the set, and even offers a “hobbit menu” which is supposed to provide the full hobbit experience. Some people go as far as saying that the Hobbiton attraction has put the rural town of Matamata on the map. In 1999 the Alexander family farm was transformed into the home of the Hobbit movie franchise. The farm is now more commonly known as Hobbiton. In just a few short years the Hobbiton Movie Set has undergone an incredible transformation. From lush countryside housing lifeless Hobbit Holes made from white polystyrene, to an immovable set playing host to over 40 Hobbit Holes on the only remaining set in New Zealand, bursting with colour and film-star sparkle. Hobbiton Movie Set tours are now taking the experience to a new level as they bring Hobbiton ‘to life.’ While they once sat darkened after hours, Hobbit Holes throughout The Shire are now wired with power, giving tour operators the ability to offer twilight tours with the set spectacularly lit against a dusk sky (Hobbiton brought to life). The attraction is constantly being upgraded to ensure consumers have a more authentic experience.

Film Induced Literary Tourism

In Butler׳s (1986) typology of literary tourism, four types of literary tourism are identified. These are supported and extended by Busby and Klug (2001) who added two further types. The following types include 1: Aspects of homage to an actual location, 2:              Places of significance in the work of fiction, 3: Appeal of areas because they were appealing to literary and other figures, 4: The literature gains popularity in a sense that the area becomes a tourist destination in its own right, plus the two Busby and Klug added being 5: Travel writing and lastly 6: Film-induced literary tourism. The main one that is going to be focused on is film induced literary tourism. This type of literary tourism is tourism resulting from enhanced interest in a destination, secured through reading the literature after viewing the screenplay. “Film-induced literary tourism” is based on film-induced tourism, whereby a tourist has read an author’s work after having viewed the film based on the work. Even though many films and television dramas are in fact based on literature, in this particular case of literary tourism the book is ‘only a souvenir, providing a permanent reminder of having seen the film’ (Busby, 2004). Therefore, film also serves as a medium that re-popularises literary works and destinations and can make literature more attractive to mass audiences. Or in other words, ‘film is to literary tourism what the Boeing 747 was to mainstream tourism – a major booster for mass tourism’ (Beeton, 2005). Hobbiton is a form of film induced literary tourism. Although the author of the book is not from New Zealand, the area features in the film series that has been based off the books. When people read the books and watch the film, then go visit Hobbiton they can easily relate it back and are provided with a real and authentic experience. The creation of Hobbiton has enabled literary tourists to follow in the footsteps of the characters and experience them in a real life setting. Furthermore, locations featured in the literature can ignite ‘an appreciation and understanding of literature as means of reflection and self-reflection’ (Andersen & Robinson, 2002), and at the same time serve as portals to infinite realities: ‘we read, and by sharing the author’s insight and understanding of the real world, our insight and understanding is also broadened’ (Hoppen, Brown & Fyall,2014). Writers can define and redefine spaces through their works (Andersen & Robinson, 2002) and literature has the ability to reflect real space and its use (Andersen and Robinson 2002). They go on to point out that the relationship between experiences in real time and place and created places is multifaceted.

Authenticity of Literary Tourism

A key challenge that may arise for literary tourism is by recreating things some people may see it as inauthentic and simply a moneymaking venture. When tourists see places linked to literature, they do so in a comprehensive way in their search for cultural and literary authenticity, that is, they want the reality of the place as they imagined it (Watson & Saunders, 2004). Questions of authenticity – that is, are the places genuine and do they faithfully represent reality? – are commonly asked with regards to literary places (Herbert, 2001). According to Herbert (1995), one issue regarding authenticity in literary tourism is linked to the fact that ‘lines blur as imagined worlds vie with real-life experience’. Furthermore, authenticity is considered to be socially constructed (Herbert, 2001), that is, it has been produced by various entrepreneurs, marketing agents, interpretative guides, animators, or institutional mediators (Hughes, 1995). When relating authenticity back to the Hobbiton site they have tried to keep the experience as authentic as possible by redeveloping the site to look exactly like the original. Some people may argue that it loses some authenticity with the redevelopment as it is not the same as what it was when it was used for the films. For example cheap props and painted polystyrene were used in the films however when redeveloped after for tourism purposes the site was remade using durable materials. This brings on the question as Hobbiton is no longer in its original form the way it was when the film was made, is it still providing an authentic experience?

Financial Benefits and Community involvement for Matamata

Once seen as a place to stop and refuel or grab something to eat the development of the Hobbiton site has seen great financial benefits for the region in which it is located in. The place is New Zealand’s third largest tourist destination, bringing in around $78m to the Matamata-Piako district annually and tourists from around the globe. The attraction has also played a vital role in the employment and community involvement for the region. According to Russel Alexander (Hobbiton Boss) “We went from 25,000 visitors per year and 17 staff, to now where we are seeing 600,000 visitors per year and a staff of nearly 300 across the whole business. Of those 300 people, Alexander said a large majority are locals and young people. “Hiring locals and young people from the community is really important to us and our business,” said Alexander. ”We love being able to give young people their start in the workforce, and showing them that tourism is a great career choice. Many of them go on to study tourism and related fields. ”Having locals on board as hosts for visitors is also an important part of the visitor experience – there’s a certain pride in place when you’re from the place you’re helping to showcase to international visitors. “I feel Matamata has really embraced the growth and the opportunities that came with it. Along with our family, I’ve been a proud member of the Matamata community for many years and I’m extremely proud to be part of a team showcasing our slice of the country to the world” (Hope, 2019).

Vandalism of sites

Vandalism by patrons is neither a recent phenomenon nor a passing, temporary fad. It has historical roots and is an ongoing problem. Looting and vandalism remain ongoing problems at archaeological sites in many parts of the world (Atwood 2006). In some countries looting is exacerbated or brought on by tragic political conflicts or turmoil (Atwood 2009). Although there has not been any documented vandalism cases at Hobbiton in the media that does not mean it doesn’t exist. With increased numbers of people visiting, it increases the chances of vandalism and other antisocial behaviours which can put huge strain on host communities. This could leave a small rural community like Matamata vulnerable to the effects of vandals and antisocial behaviour as they don’t have the resources to cope with the influx of tourists that flood in. An example where a world heritage site has become vulnerable to the increase in visitor numbers is Venice. The local population of Venice has declined by two thirds in the last 50 years, with the residents moving out whilst tourist numbers have swelled (Richardson, 2017). Many reasons for this decline in population due to Overtourism include traffic congestion, parking problems, vandalism, increased levels of crime and the destruction of some historical sites. This too could become a problem for the rural regions like Matamata if plans are not put in place.  


A key factor that can be beneficial or a problem to a destination and host community as a result of the development of cultural or heritage tourism resources within a community is infrastructure. A site such as Hobbiton is based in a rural town which may not have necessarily been prepared for huge increases of tourists. This can put a huge strain on the town’s infustructure. Hendrik Ingelbrecht, a South African who has made Matamata his home, works at The Redoubt Bar and Eatery. Each day he says he sees 30 to 40 people stop to see the Gollum statue that sits on the main road outside his work. “That’s a lot of foot traffic from a movie that was three years ago,” Mr Ingelbrecht says. “The Hobbit would have increased that by twice as much (Herald Online).  This just further highlights how one site can lead to growth in visitor numbers long after it was first produced. On the other hand the increased foot traffic visiting rural areas such as the Hobbiton location brings in money from outside the region. This money can be then used to fund community projects and vital infustructure which in turn could lead to the improvement of the local’s standard of living.


Literary tourism plays a vital role in the tourism industry and is becoming a fast growing phenomenon. Sites such as Hobbiton are a key element to economic growth in smaller regions and can play a pivotal role in increasing community involvement thru things such as employment. The Hobbiton site has become New Zealand’s third largest tourist attraction and has led to the growth of a small rural town which was once seen as a town where you fill up your car and get a bite to eat. The increased demand for literary tourism has seen the rapid expansion of a family farm into a world renowned tourist attraction. The Hobbiton site enables literary tourists to follow in the footsteps of the characters in the hobbit and lord of the rings franchise and ensures they are provided with a truly authentic experience. Authenticity was key elements that can see problems arise. Tourists want an authentic experiences and sometimes in big film and book franchises can see authenticity disappear in order to make money. Comparing a literary tourism location such as an author’s grave or place of birth to a movie set authenticity can easily be altered for the movie set more so than the place of birth or grave. In conclusion as mentioned above literary places attract both general heritage visitors as well as a niche segment of genuine literary pilgrims (Smith, 2003), whom Herbert (2001) characterises as well-educated tourists, ‘versed in the classics and with the cultural capital to appreciate and understand this form of heritage’.     



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