ESI has worked with local and state governments across the US on economic development strategies that draw new spending and people into their communities, thus increasing spending and dollars circulating in the economy. One such opportunity for this is at the intersection of film production and tourism, or what we call film-induced tourism, with travelers seeking out destinations featured prominently in movies and TV shows. ESI has had the opportunity to work with communities in two states, Georgia and Montana, that have significant film tax credits and have seen growth in their film industries and subsequent tourism impacts.
Georgia has held the title of the “Hollywood of the South” due in large part to its highly successful film tax credit program, established in 2005. The state’s incentives have attracted major film productions, transforming Georgia into a bustling hub for the movie industry. The film tax credit offers significant financial benefits to production companies, including tax rebates and exemptions, making it an attractive destination for filmmakers. ESI worked in Douglas County last year and we noticed the influence of film on the tourism economy.
Douglas County is home to the Douglas Film Trail, which highlights filming locations of various movies and TV shows. This draws fans of the series to visit iconic locations such as the historic downtown area and the picturesque Sweetwater Creek State Park. The trail offers a self-guided tour of nine film locations throughout the area. Over 700 movies and television productions have been filmed in Douglas County. Notable projects include Stranger Things, Marvel’s Avengers Endgame, The Hunger Games, The Have and Have Nots, The Walking Dead, The Founder, and Smokey and the Bandit.
While Georgia has long enjoyed the benefits of a thriving film industry, Montana has recently witnessed a surge in interest from filmmakers, thanks in part to the introduction the Montana Economic Development Industry Advancement (MEDIA) Act tax credit. Enacted in 2019, the MEDIA Act tax credit offers financial advantages, including a refundable tax credit for qualified production expenses incurred within the state.
Montana’s natural landscapes have become a magnet for filmmakers seeking picturesque settings for their productions. This newfound attention has not only invigorated Montana’s film scene but also created exciting opportunities for film-induced tourism. Recent studies link the Montana-filmed megahit Yellowstone to increasing Montana’s visitation by roughly 2.1 million visitors. The University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) estimates these 2.1 million visitors brought $730 million in spending to Montana in 2021 alone.
The film tax incentives offered by Georgia and Montana have not only attracted filmmakers and cultivated local talent but also demonstrated the potential power of film-induced tourism for local communities. For these places, film serves as advertising and media impressions to audiences from around the world.
Film-induced tourism offers a captivating way for travelers to experience the enchantment of the big screen firsthand. It also has an economic impact and activity in the areas they are located, which creates jobs, new business opportunity and influences other area assets. Georgia and Montana, with their cinematic landscapes and rich cultural heritage, stand as prime examples of destinations that have leveraged the power of film to attract visitors from around the world. ESI is equipped and experienced to conduct economic impact analyses for individual projects, as well as potential impacts for new legislation.
Frank Robinson is a Vice President with Econsult Solutions. He has been a leader in the economic development and sustainable development industries for over 20 years, working with corporate, government and nonprofit clients, banks and credit unions, as well as community development financial institutions and small businesses.