Polish City Placement: A New Kind of Travel Agency
default, 'Father Mateusz', photo: TVP, center, ojciec_mateusz-tvp.jpg
Pop-cultural popularity has become a curse for some tourist-friendly cities, but it's becoming a real blessing for smaller cultural centres across Poland. That's why in the past few years film funding has become one of the chief tools serving to promote cities and regions. Specialists in film-generated tourism are now changing Polish cities, too. But is 'city placement' changing our home-grown pop culture as well?
When Kim Eun-sook's TV series Lovers in Prague premiered in 2005 on South Korean SBS television, few could imagine what an enormous effect it would have on European tourism. Its success caused the Czech capital to become a new, favourite destination for Korean tourists virtually overnight. The growth in the number of Korean tourists was so significant that the Prague airport soon added Korean texts to its existing Czech and English signage.
The case of Lovers in Prague is not unique. Places we know from our favourite TV shows have become ever more popular destinations for consumers of popular culture – even back in the 1990s, Northern Exposure generated greatly increased travel to Alaska; for decades, New York tourists have followed in the footsteps of the women of Sex & the City; fans of Henning Mankella's detective stories visit Sweden's Ystaad hot on the trail of Inspector Wallander, and travellers visiting California are increasingly coming home from the States with photos of the Bixby Creek Bridge which is featured in the excellent title sequence of Big Little Lies.
Binge-Worthy: Polish TV Goes Global
Big Little Lies: Opening Credits (HBO)
These are only small examples confirming the major changes underway today at the junction of tourism and pop culture. In recent years, two phenomena have intersected: the growing interest in TV series (who doesn’t binge-watch these days?) and the increasing availability of inexpensive travel. The conjunction of these two trends has placed TV shows amongst the most potent tools for promoting particular cities and regions.
Proof of TV's phenomenal power can easily be found. It suffices to recall the success of Outlander, a costume-fantasy produced by the Starz TV network. Taking place in 18th-century Scotland, that tale of women time-travellers has caused the number of tourists visiting Scotland to rise consistently and, according to the Scottish Tourist Board, the popularity of the places featured in Outlander has grown by fully 92% over the last five years.
Poles on the Tube: Polish Representations on American & British TV
GAME OF THRONES | Behind The Scenes | On Location
This isn't the only example of a tourism success prompted by an on-screen success. Possibly the most dramatic case is that of Iceland which pulled itself out of a severe economic crash in 2008, only to become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe just a few years later. This was largely the result of the tremendous popularity of the TV series Game of Thrones. Ever since the series, filmed in part on location in Iceland, won over the hearts of television viewers, Iceland has experienced an almost 400% rise in tourism income. The marketing success of the show was so great that Icelandic authorities began to consider introducing limits to the number of guests admitted to the island at any given time.
And they were not alone. Game of Thrones also became a sweet nuisance for the city of Dubrovnik. This beautiful Croatian city – which as it was had never complained of a lack of tourists – following the success of the HBO series in 2019, suffered such an onslaught of new tourists that its officials considered further tightening its existing limits on visitors. This was out of concern that the city's landmark heritage neighbourhoods could be trampled by crowds. Barcelona is struggling with a similar problem. Barcelona, which just a few years ago invested millions of Euro in Woody Allen's film Vicky Cristina Barcelona, is now worrying about the spin-off effects of gentrification and the overwhelming number of visitors arriving during tourist season.
As much as pop-cultural fame in these days of over-tourism can be a curse for major tourist cities, the same phenomenon has been a true blessing for smaller destinations. When SeaChange premiered on Australia's ABC network in 1998, a new era began for the small town of Barwon Heads. It only took two episodes (the series was cancelled in 2000 and resumed only in 2019) for the neglected town to become a tourist attraction. New restaurants and companies quickly popped up, the number of hotel rooms quintupled (from 1000 to 5000), and local employment spiked by 89 %.
Visit with Father Mateusz
7 Summer Destinations in Poland
Nowa czołówka serialu "Ojciec Mateusz" (ojciecmateusz.tvp.pl)
This global trend can also be seen in the Polish market, which year by year evinces increasing interest in city placement as a mode of promoting and developing its image. The outstanding example of this development in the Polish context is Sandomierz which, thanks to the series Father Mateusz (Ojciec Mateusz), has become one of Poland's best-known towns.
Since the series began running on Polish television in 2008, the number of tourists almost instantly rose from 80,000 to 250,000 visitors per year. Soon after, attractions connected to Father Mateusz were created and the famous clergyman and bicyclist became a guide to Sandomierz's tourist routes and a character in a popular board game.
The promotional success of the series was so great that the provincial authorities decided to capitalise on it as well to draw tourists to other cities of the region. The regional authorities agreed to help finance the production of the show, in return for which – as of Season Three – Father Mateusz would begin travelling out of Sandomierz for location shots in Kielce, Pacanów, Busko Zdrój, and Michałów, for example, and visiting the region's most interesting sites, from the ruins of the Krzyżtopór Castle to the Ćmielów porcelain factory.
For the regional authorities, cooperation with the producers gave them a chance to improve the reputation of their region which either had a negative reputation among the general public or simply had no recognition at all. Thanks to the adventures of the detective-priest, the city's leaders succeeded in changing the reputation of the Świętokrzyskie Province for the better and the cost for doing so was laughably small when compared to the considerable marketing value achieved.
City for sale
All Over the Map: A Quick Tour of Poland’s Voivodeships
'City placement' continues to be one of the least expensive means of promoting regions. By investing a few hundred thousand złotys in the production of a popular series, regional officials can count on generating the kind of media interest that it would otherwise cost millions to gain in traditional ways.
The success of Sandomierz with Father Mateusz has inspired other city officials to eagerly invest in making their cities the locations of popular TV programmes. And those officials are now making their demands much more specific in negotiating terms with the shows' producers.
When TVN broadcast the first episodes of Doctors – a series about physicians from Toruń – in 2012, tourists began taking a great interest in locations featured in the show and the municipal investment placed in the show paid off in reaching the show's two million viewers and increasing the city's popularity.
A Few Hours in... Toruń
City placement in television shows isn't always monogamous. The producers of some shows are keenly aware of the marketing power they command and they have often promoted the marketing potential of their productions. A good example is the comedy Family.pl (Rodzinka.pl): its eponymous family lives in Ełk (which paid 10,000 złotys for the placement) and in Grudziądz (90,000 złotys) and they visit Zielona Góra, which paid over 100,000 złotys for a visit by the Boski family to their community.
This model of co-operation between municipal authorities and series producers remains rare, however. Far more often, the series producers opt for longer-term cooperation. That's why Commissioner Alex always sniffs out criminals in Łódź, the action of Szadź consistently plays out in Opole, and the kindly Archivist carries out his investigations exclusively in tiny Żyrardów. This means that the cities can be sure of being the sole beneficiaries of the shows' success and the producers have their arrangements greatly simplified. After all, the co-operation of local authorities will open the doors to the most interesting local architectural and natural resources which might otherwise be costly to access on standard commercial terms.
Summer in Mazowsze
Zbliżenia (2014) - trailer HBO
The advantages of city placement to city governments cannot always be measured in monetary terms. An appearance in a TV series or a hit film not only provides an opportunity to draw in tourists; it's also a chance to change a city's image. This fact has been clearly demonstrated by the Silesian Film Foundation, one of the most active such foundations in Poland, which has worked for years to dispel negative stereotypes about its region.
Virtually no other area of Poland has been so thoroughly derided in Polish cinema. Silesia for years served as the background of sad tales about historical tragedies and people tossed to the margins of society. Silesia for years has appeared in films as a morass of bootleg coal mines, dirty family slums, alcoholism and filthy children playing on soot-blackened piles of coal.
In order to overcome these damning stereotypes, Silesian officials decided to use cinema as a means of regional promotion. For years now, the region's film foundation has been subsidising film productions that show Katowice and its neighbouring cities as metropolises in which up-to-date industry thrives and where ever more attractive architectural projects are being realised. This vision of Silesia can be seen in Magdalena Piekorz's Close-Ups and in Love in the Garden City directed by Adam Sikora and Ingmar Villqist – films that may not be the most artistically sublime, but which do present new and beautiful images of Silesia.
Local patriotism on film
The Silesian Museum: The Architecture of Identity
Cicha Noc - oficjalny zwiastun!
Over the last dozen or so years, film foundations have become one of the most valued instruments of local and regional promotion. It started in Łódź, which established its foundation in 2007. Others followed in its footsteps, with regional foundations being set up in Katowice, Kraków, Wrocław, Szczecin, Lublin, Gdynia, Poznań, Białystok, Warsaw, Olsztyn and Rzeszów. Today, each of those foundations invests in films whose action takes place in their respective region or which relates historical events which transpired in the area.
These depictions aren't always picture perfect. It's enough to recall that the very first film co-funded by the Warmian-Masurian Film Foundation was Silent Night, a modest story playing out in a small village 'in the middle of nowhere'. Piotr Domalewski's debut picture was rather unlikely to draw millions of tourists to the Mazury lake district: it told the story of a significant chapter in history in which the people of the region took part – a massive emigration of people in search of employment and the tragic dissolution of family ties that resulted from it.
A Poster Lover’s Map Of Polish Cities
Artistic ambitions can be successfully realised while promoting a product. This has been best seen in films funded by the Lower Silesia Film Foundation over many years which have been popular, but which haven't given up on artistic ambitions. Waldemar Krzysztek's Eighty Million or Agnieszka Holland's Spoor effectively promote the region, yet never turn into a mere promotional slideshow of local scenery.
Not everyone has succeeded in achieving this tricky balance. A notably poor example of Polish city placement was Juliusz Machulski's Volta – this crime comedy worked so hard to promote Lublin that it nearly forgot about its plot's characters who yielded most every scene to highlighting local hotels or even... the regional rail system.
Courage is an Important Weapon: An Interview with Agnieszka Holland
When investing in the production of TV shows and films, Polish local authorities focus primarily on the domestic viewer. The international promotional potential of Polish cinema is today (still?) too weak for even successful Polish films to prompt foreign viewers to visit Poland. While it's true that the Oscar success of Ida (supported by the Łódź Film Foundation) raised world awareness of Łódź as a centre for filmmaking, it did not at all generate a wave of foreign tourists to Łódź.
The same is true of international productions filmed in Poland. The Bollywood film Kick with Salman Khan takes place in Warsaw, but the Polish capital was not really highlighted in that super-production; similarly, Bangistan, filmed in Kraków, was only a moderate success, earning only 3 million złotys in Indian cinemas.
Western movies filmed in Poland have also rarely turned into marketing successes for the cities in which they were filmed. Sometimes that was deliberate. It's enough to consider Wrocław which in Spielberg's Bridge of Spies passed for Berlin or which played 1970s Prague in Petr Kazda and Tomas Weinreb's I, Olga Hepnarová, entirely disguising its true identity from the viewer. Or the Stołowe Mountains, which appeared in Chronicles of Narnia: despite the film's popularity, it made no impact on the region's tourism.
While Polish cities have begun to learn the lessons of city placement, they still have a lot of work ahead of them. Just as the Norwegian tourist agencies have managed to profit from the success of the animated film Frozen, there's no reason that Polish authorities shouldn't be able to take advantage of Polish productions as well. This is true especially now that financial incentives offered by the Polish Film Institute are drawing filmmakers from around the world to film here on the banks of the Vistula.
And the Winner is… Poles Who Won Oscars
polish tv series
polish tv drama series
polish tv shows
Sources: S. Kucharska, 'Efekt Ojca Mateusza. Wstęp do badań nad ekonomią lokalizacji filmowych', w 'Polskie seriale telewizyjne' pod red. Piotra Zwierzchowskiego, Barbary Gizy, Karoliny Kosińskiej & Johna Batesa, Bydgoszcz 2014