It was a day of lights, camera and action – under the U.K. flag – as VisitBritain helped close the final weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Friday (Sept. 15) with a lunch reception and screening of the new film North Star, a family drama set in the United Kingdom.
The event, which began with light bites in the Founder's Lounge of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and concluded at Scotiabank Theatre around the corner, was an opportunity for VisitBritain (a TIFF sponsor) to showcase film and TV in the U.K., why Britain is a popular choice for filming locations and how “set-jetting” is one of the biggest trends driving travellers.
“Films and TV are powerful motivators for travel,” said Cathy Stapells, senior marketing and communications manager for Canada at VisitBritain, addressing the crowd, which consisted of media and travel partners.
Stapells said that “almost a third” of potential visitors to the U.K. are keen to visit because “they want to visit film and TV locations.”
It’s a lucrative market, too. According to 2019 figures released by the British Film Institute, inbound tourists spent an estimated $892 million pounds on film-related tourism activities.
Film and TV locations also offer valuable opportunities to shine the spotlight on regional destinations, Stapells said.
“London's fantastic, but we're all interested in demonstrating the amazing opportunities for people to visit beyond London,” Stapells told guests.
VisitBritain, over the past year, has been harnessing tourism growth with its multi-million pound GREAT Britain marketing campaign in Canada and the United States.
The campaign invites visitors to "See Things Differently," showcasing Britain as a dynamic, diverse and exciting destination that’s packed with activities and events.
But film and TV collaborations play an important role in the strategy as well.
U.K-based productions like Bridgerton, Downton Abbey, Outlander, the James Bond Skyfall and Spectre films, Paddington, Kingsman, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter are just a few well-known titles that VisitBritain has leaned on to attract international interest and boost tourism numbers.
VisitBritain, notably, is available to work with travel and tourism partners to develop what it calls “screen tourism itineraries.”
“There are so many amazing films and TV series being shot in Britain,” Stapells told PAX. “It's a wonderful opportunity for us to highlight these filming locations.”
In the TIFF spotlight
In the case of the movie North Star, the directorial debut of Kristin Scott Thomas and starring Scarlett Johansson, audiences are transported to the backroads of the English countryside.
The film was shot in and around the dreamy county of Hampshire in South East England.
Fouzia Younis, who took up her position as British Consul General to Toronto in April 2023, told PAX that TIFF, this year, saw its “biggest-ever U.K. presence” with 24 U.K.-based productions.
In addition, a networking event was held during TIFF where 26 filmmakers from Canada and the U.K were paired up for the purpose of forming potential collaboration opportunities.
Also, an event, hosted in collaboration with Burberry, was held during the festival to celebrate the best of British fashion and film.
“It's wonderful to be here and showcase iconic U.K. locations that are shown through film,” said Younis, who was attending TIFF for the first time.
When it comes to promoting destinations at a major event like TIFF, “There's really no other platform, in terms of films and the arts, that gives us this opportunity,” Younis continued.
“People are seeing some of our iconic locations, from The Cotswolds to cities like Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast,” Younis said. “Tourists are looking at these places, and thinking, ‘Where should I go on my next holiday?’ They're not just thinking about London, but they're thinking about other parts of the U.K. that they can go to.”
Some of Britain’s biggest draws this year have included the Coronation of King Charles III in London and the Eurovision Song Contest, on behalf of Ukraine, in Liverpool – both of which happened in May.
Younis noted how nearly one million Canadians visit the U.K each year, and how there’s 102 direct flights between the two countries, amounting to 48,000 seats a week.
Britain’s national tourism agency recently proclaimed 2022 as an "outstanding year" for visits from Canada to the United Kingdom as numbered exceeded 2019 levels.
Visits from Canada to the U.K. in 2022 shot up three per cent on 2019, with 897,000 arrivals, spending a record-breaking total of $1.57 billion CAD, which is 27 per cent up on 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The average length of stay for inbound Canadian travellers grew by two nights last year, to 11 nights, which is three nights higher than the global average of eight nights.
Britain and Canada share strong ancestral ties, and visiting friends and relatives lead in terms of volume of visits from the Canadian market.
“This strong growth has continued into 2023,” VisitBritain says.