Lights, Camera, Vacation: Exploring the Rise of Immersive Film Experiences

How innovative tour operators are transforming stories from the screen into immersive experiences, and how other operators can take advantage of this growing trend

Stories have an almost magical ability to transport us into new worlds. We experience this every time we turn on the TV or enter a theater, tune out our surrounding reality, and become immersed in the unfolding narrative before us. But when the credits roll and the story ends, we are often left wanting more.

Enter immersive film tourism. While film tours have been around for a while — enabling fans to see and learn about the filming of their favorite flicks — and filming locations increasingly inspire destination choice for travelers, immersive film tourism takes this to the next level by putting them into the stories. 

Recently at Arival 360 | Orlando, Ana Araque from Imagine Experiences shared just how powerful it can be when we enable guests to step into the life of another character.

“Instead of telling you a James Bond movie was filmed over there, you’re being treated like you are James Bond,” Araque shared of Imagine Experiences’ “Bond For A Day” immersive experience in her breakout session Creating Truly Immersive and Highly Profitable Experiences (available on-demand for Insider Pro Access members).

Imagine Experiences Founder Ana Araque shares how they turn a popular movie franchise into an immersive experience. Araque will be presenting again at Arival 360 | Berlin 2024 in March.

So how can other tour operators take advantage of this opportunity? Let’s look a little closer at immersive film experiences in action. 

The Immersive Experience Opportunity for Operators

Searches for immersive experiences have been on the rise since the beginning of 2021, due in part to the popularity of immersive art exhibits such as Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience. But now the label is being applied to every sort of experience, from walking tours to major attractions. 

Google Trends shows a rise in searches for “immersive experiences” as a search term since early 2021

Even giants like Netflix are looking to leverage this opportunity by experimenting with immersive experiences like Squid Game: The Trials in Los Angeles and partnered with Fever to produce Stranger Things: The Experience and The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience, immersing fans in the worlds of their favorite characters.

@strangerthings.exp With our power and heart combined, no one can stop us ⚡️ Eleven and Mike step into the Upside Down together at the #StrangerThingsExperience #StrangerThings #Netflix #Fever ♬ original sound – StrangerThings.Experience

Netflix and Fever partnered to produce Stranger Things: The Immersive Experience

GetYourGuide CEO Johannes Reck also emphasized the growing popularity of immersive experiences as a category for the online travel agency as well in a recent interview with Arival.

In addition to this, an interesting trend that unveiled in their 2024 predictions is that travelers enjoy embracing “alter egos” on vacation, with 37% making up stories about their real life to people they meet on their travels. What’s more, well over half (57%) of travelers feel “main character energy” on their travels, with these performers empowered to be the stars of their own life. Fitting with Araque’s definition of immersive as “become the main character of your own story” we will continue to see story and experiences be taken to creative levels over the next few years. 

With travelers looking to add more experiences to their trips according to Arival research on traveler planning and intentions in 2024, tour operators have an opportunity here, by focusing more attention on immersive experiences. So how can you attract these experiences-over-things travelers and their “main character energy” to your tours, activities and experiences? 


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Finding the Stories in Your Destination

Every destination has its stories, but not all of them might be blockbuster hits or have a cult following. And while story is an essential aspect of immersion, it doesn’t always have to be a popularized show or movie. We have been seeing a similar trend in literary tourism, where people will travel far and wide to walk in the footsteps of characters from their favorite books. And let’s not discount cultural lore, myths, and legends that have been a strong driver of travel for centuries.

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, Araque recommends putting a twist on the classics.

For example, there are over 93 groups on social media, comprised of two million people around the world, dedicated to James Bond. Tapping into an enthusiastic, built-in market can be incredibly lucrative for experience operators with a passion for a certain film or show. 

Ana Araque uses Imagine Experiences’ “Bond for a Day” to illustrate the potential of immersive film experiences

Is there a story that takes place in your destination that you know travelers are eager to engage with? What are the stories you’re already telling on a tour that could be made more interactive? Sometimes all it takes is adding a sensorial layer to a story to help bring it to life. 

Creating Immersive Moments for Your Guests

Most importantly, what we can take away from Araque’s talk as well as her interview on how Immersive Doesn’t Have to Mean Tech, is the importance of not just telling a story, but immersing guests in it. Also known as ‘story-doing’, this is the concept of making stories interactive and actionable, and most importantly using story to allow travelers to advance their own personal narratives.

As you start looking at ways to tell stories through experiences beyond just using words, you’ll naturally begin to create immersive moments for your guests. When you look at the sensory touchpoints and interactions across your guest’s journey, what can you do to make everything come alive with more emotion? How can you incorporate a bit of theatrics to help transport people into what feels like an intentionally curated scene? Put your movie director hat on for the day and see what ideas arise! 

Immersive Experiences at Arival 360 | Berlin

Join us at the next Arival to dig deeper into experience design, immersive experiences and the latest travel trends and research. Ana Araque will be presenting again at Arival 360 | Berlin 2024 in March on “Creating Immersive Experiences That Wow Guests and Drive Profits.” We hope to see you there!

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