Game of Thrones 'is the economic gift that keeps on giving'

THE newly-opened Game of Thrones Studio Tour in Banbridge “could have as big an impact on tourism in Northern Ireland as the Titanic Belfast attraction in terms of being world-leading”, its owners believe.

And although Warner Bros Themed Entertainment are coy about predicting visitor numbers to the £40 million location at Linen Mill Studios, they insist the world-first experience will be “an undoubted economic game-changer” for the region.

Despite the £39.50 basic admission price (which is cheaper than Harry Potter World in London at £49.95 but more expensive than Legoland at £39), it is understood early interest in visiting the 110,000 sq ft interactive GoT experience - which has provided jobs for 120 people - has exceeded initial expectations.

An estimated 350,000 out-of-state leisure visitors came to Northern Ireland in 2018 specifically because of Game of Thrones, spending in excess of £50 million at various attractions round the north coast and Belfast.

And such is the Linen Mill's location in the centre of Co Down, it can generally be reached within an hour-and-a-half by the 11 million people who visit the island of Ireland each year.

The HBO series has aired in over 207 countries and territories, culminating in record-setting ratings, and over its eight seasons, the show became one of the biggest and most iconic series in television history.

Irish actor Ian McElhinney, who played Ser Barristan Selmy in 25 episodes over four years, told the Irish News: “This show was the biggest gift ever given to this province, and now that we have this incredible permanent exhibition, it's the gift that just keeps on giving.

“Game of Thrones has turned Northern Ireland into one of the leading film and television locations in the world, and we now have crews that can vie with anyone in the industry.”

Although the series is no longer in production, it continues to engage passionate fans and ignite audiences’ excitement, with the next iteration of the franchise, House of the Dragon, set to premiere on HBO and HBO Max later this year.

This, it is understood, has been a contributory factor in Tourism Ireland today launching a £3.5 million multi-media promotional campaign in Britain which aims to boost travel to Northern Ireland from GB over the coming months.

The campaign - which will also include a new music partnership to highlight the recent designation of Belfast as a UNESCO City of Music - will be seen by millions and will reach at least 75 per cent of all UK adults, hopefully generating demand and driving bookings for short breaks and holidays in Northern Ireland.

Tourism minister Gordon Lyons said: “Northern Ireland is renowned for its fantastic tourism product, including the beautiful Causeway Coastal Route, the historic city of Londonderry, the fantastic lakelands of Fermanagh, our capital city Belfast, and now the only officially-licensed Game of Thrones experience in the world.”

The interactive experience reveals the world of Westeros like never before, giving fans and visitors the chance to explore the famous sets of King’s Landing, Winterfell, Dragonstone, The Wall and beyond.

The Studio Tour showcases the exquisite sets and creative artistry behind the incredible costumes, props, weaponry and visual effects which brought the story of Game of Thrones to life on screen.

Linen Mill Studios is a subsidiary of John Hogg & Co, a family business which has traded successfully since the 1800s (it's perhaps best known for operating Ulster Weavers).

For a century-and-a-half the site, three miles from Banbridge, was used solely for linen production before the factory closed at the start of the millennium.

But it 2008, its association with HBO began, culminating in the filming of the final eighth season in 2018, with 75 per cent of Game of Thrones filmed in Northern Ireland being shot at the Linen Mill Studios.

Linen Mill Studios general manager Brad Kelly said: “After many years of planning, design and construction, we're thrilled to finally open our doors to allow guests to get closer to the Seven Kingdoms than ever before.

“Housed at one of the original filming studios, this incredible and unique experience brings the making of Game of Thrones to life through a vast array of authentic sets, props and costumes, together with immersive interactives and exclusive behind-the-scenes content.

“We're proud to be part of an ongoing legacy of Game of Thrones that will delight current and future fans of the show, as well as those interested in the artistry that goes into making such an iconic production.”