Travel for People Who Take Their Fandom Seriously
Fan trips are a growing type of package travel that for certain film fanatics can be the trip of a lifetime.
Promoting and offering tours of tourist attractions and other sites that have been used in films and television series is nothing new. Think Seinfeld, Sex and the City, Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code. The latest title to the list is Twilight, which opened in theaters last month.
While fan tours have been around a while, fan trips—entire vacations spent with a focus on a favorite film—are another matter.
“The trip evolved out of groups with disposable income willing to pay for experiences as opposed to just a trip,” says John Frenaye, chief single dad of SingleParentTravel.net (SPT). “These are not people looking for a trip to Cancun for seven days. They want to be able to participate in something, whether it’s learning a folkloric dance, running with the bulls or swimming with dolphins.”
Potter, Vampires and Special Access
The first fan trip SPT offered was last summer with a Harry Potter trip, which included eight days of immersion into the world of Harry Potter in the United Kingdom, from getting a private ride on the train used in the films (there are replica trains elsewhere, but the organization that Frenaye partnered with is the only one with access to the train used in the film), a special banquet and awards dinner at the ‘Hogwart’s castle,’ and a special perk which you’ll read more about later. He followed up with a trip to Portland last month for a Twilight preview. SPT’s next fan trip is a Twilight tour to Italy next summer. [For more about Harry Potter film sites, read our Oxford Harry Potter article.]
“So far they are very popular,” says Frenaye, “even in a crappy economy.”
The recent Twilight trip included a special sneak preview of the movie, private guided tours to many of the film locations (both public and private) throughout Portland, and guest speakers who were cast members or part of the film’s production team.
Frenaye worked with Beyond Boundaries, a Denver tour operator with fan trips as one of its niches. It is one of the few travel companies that offer these types of targeted trips.
“We offered our first fan trips in 2004, and they’ve continued to grow since then,” says Jeannie Barresi, owner of Beyond Boundaries. “They’re very popular right now, especially Twilight, Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter. Fan trips are similar to they types of trips organized by baseball fans, who go from ballgame to ballgame. It’s a different type of travel that’s fairly new.”
Twilight fan Cindy Rosenblum, an associate research director for an advertising agency in New York, found out about the November Portland trip she attended via the TwilightersAnonymous.com fan site, and attended the trip by herself.
“I hadn’t been on a vacation in a while and the trip looked cool,” says Rosenblum. “I would definitely recommend this type of travel. Having everything organized was great; you didn’t have to worry about anything. And you get to meet people who are interested in the same things you are.”
Her favorite part: getting to see the movie, along with cast members, a week before it was released and visiting the film locations.
And that’s what makes fan trips so great, the inside access, VIP treatment and special perks.
Barresi also says they’re also a good idea for people who have trouble finding vacation options for teenagers. “When parents book something like this it makes them look cool to their kids. It’s a bonding event that the entire family can get into,” she says. At least if your teen is indeed a fanatic about the topic of the trip.
In addition, you sometimes get some perks not initially on the itinerary.
Before finalizing plans last year for the Potter trip, Frenaye tried to get in touch with J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, because she is one of the most popular single parents in the world, and he wanted to see if she would be able to do something for his group.
“I called Scholastic. They laughed, told me to go away,” says Frenaye. “I contacted her U.K. publisher. They didn’t laugh as hard, but they didn’t get back to me either. I then found an organization on her Web site that she supports, contacted them to explain what we did, and the next thing I know, her U.K. publisher calls and had a dozen copies of her latest book sent to our hotel, signed with ‘A gift from J.K. Rowling.’ I was going to buy the books for my group, but instead they got a signed copy. That’s a $500 value-add.”
Fan Trip Planning Tips
Fan trips are an intense experience, and they aren’t necessarily for everyone. “We bring in experts and storytellers and everyone in the group is really into the topic. It’s more than just a film preview experience,” says Barresi.
Because of this intensity of topic, Barresi and Frenaye agree that fan trips aren’t for everyone. Here are some things to keep in mind before booking yourself on the next vampire or Potter adventure.
- Really be a fan of the trip’s topic, be it Harry Potter, Twilight or any other focus, otherwise you might get bored.
- Set realistic expectations. If you don’t like groups or organized tours, fan trips aren’t for you. They’re less flexible and more escorted than typical tours.
- If taking kids, make sure they’re old enough to enjoy it. SPT kids range in age from 7 to 14, says Frenaye. “Younger than that and they don’t appreciate it. Older ones prefer to stay at home than be with mom and dad.”
- Consider variable costs. Prices can range from $500 to $10,000 for 3-star to 5-star experiences. Also, overseas trips need to factor in exchange rates changes. The Potter trip to England last summer was more expensive than when first planned due to a weakened dollar.
Barresi says she’s looking to expand her company’s offerings to include TV series and other books. A space camp concept is also in development, for science fans. “I would bring in science fiction authors and have Star Trek and Star Wars speakers, panels and writers with scientists on how they work together and share inspiration back and forth,” says Barresi.
As for Rosenblum, “I’d definitely go on another fan trip. I’m not a Harry Potter fan though, but I’d be into the Jane Austen trip. The only thing missing [from the itinerary] is Colin Firth making an appearance.”
Themes: Family Travel