Lights, camera, action! Hertfordshire is being primed as a major 'screen tourism' destination as the county's economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

Visit Hertfordshire is planning a screen tourism strategy to capitalise on all the filming that takes place in the county.

Herts' creative sector has been further boosted by the plans for a new £700m film and TV studios in the borough of Broxbourne, west of Waltham Cross.

Deirdre Wells OBE, chief executive of Go To Places, which manages Visit Hertfordshire, was delighted at the announcement that Hollywood-based Sunset Studios is planning to expand into the county.

“We are just thrilled to hear about these plans for a new world class film and TV studios in Hertfordshire," she said.

"They will be a fantastic addition to the studios at Elstree and Leavesden, and with Sky also investing in their facilities in Hertsmere this corner of the country is shaping up to be England’s answer to Hollywood!"

The timely announcement comes as Visit Herts looks to maximise the county's rich TV and film heritage.

“In addition to the huge boost these studios will bring to the local economy, these plans also present another fantastic opportunity for ‘screen tourism'," said Deirdre Wells.

"One in five tourists are influenced by what they have seen on screen in making their destination choice and pre-COVID this brought in an estimated £140m spending from international tourists across England outside of London.

“This is why we are currently working up plans and proposals to develop new screen-based itineraries for visitors that will enable them to engage with these locations now and in the future.

"It will also help to drive domestic visitor footfall to local businesses decimated by the pandemic.”

Herts' tourism sector was growing before COVID-19 struck last year. Figures for 2019 showed the county’s visitor economy had topped £2.4 billion for the first time ever.

The pandemic brought that year-on-year increase to a juddering halt, with tourist attractions, pubs, restaurants and hotels all closed for long periods.

Tourism experts at Visit Herts see the county's on-screen presence as a way of bouncing back from the pandemic now that the country is opening up again and people's confidence starts to return.

Among the Hollywood stars to have filmed in the county are La La Land Oscar winner Emma Stone, Fast & Furious 9's Vin Diesel, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Wonder Woman's Gal Gadot, who also shot scenes across the county border at IWM Duxford.

Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has visited Tesco headquarters in Welwyn Garden City, while Harry Styles' new movie My Policeman filmed at Hitchin's outdoor swimming pool.

Sean Connery and John Malkovich have filmed in St Albans Cathedral, while new ITV2 teen drama Tell Me Everything is set in Welwyn Garden City.

Herts already has two established film studios, with the new state-of-the-art Sky Studios Elstree facilities set to join the county's roster of sound stages in 2022.

There are also proposals for another studio in Hertsmere called Hertswood, and now the Sunset Studios expansion into Broxbourne. on a 91-acre site close to the M25 at Junction 25, just five miles from Cuffley.

The county also boasts the UK's number one film tourism attraction in Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, a world-leading exhibition and studio tour in Leavesden.

With a strong backlist of internationally recognised films, High-End TV (HETV) drama productions filmed in the county, and good transport links to London, Herts is perfectly positioned to become a leading screen tourism player, if marketed to the right audience.

What is Screen Tourism?

The power of pop culture can made a town, city or county a major draw for tourists. They want to see for real the places they've seen in the movies or on Netflix.

Screen tourism is when a film or TV production is the key driver for a tourist to visit a destination or an additional activity which allows them to explore the wider area.

How can Herts benefit?

At the Visit Herts Summer Garden Party networking event held in The Old Palace at Hatfield House last month, Danielle Gawler, destinations and marketing development executive at Visit Herts, explained the county's proposed screen tourism strategy.

There are six key genres that make the UK a screen tourism winner:

  • heritage
  • true stories
  • literacy greats
  • crime and contemporary
  • escapism
  • family appeal

Herts already has a number of screen tourism strengths.

For starters, it has historic country estates – Knebworth House, Hatfield House, Wrotham Park, and Brocket Hall for example – that are regularly used for location filming for movies and HETV dramas, such as Bridgerton, The Great, and The Crown.

St Albans Cathedral has also been used for The Crown.

Thanks to Warner Bros Studios Leavesden, Visit Herts is looking to position the county as "the home of Harry Potter" to capitalise on the boy wizard's enduring popularity and the fact the films were made here in Hertfordshire.

Action and adventure movies are also made at Warner Bros Studios, while Herts is the home on screen of Batman's Wayne Manor and Lara Croft's Croft Manor in Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider blockbusters.

The EastEnders set is at BBC Elstree Centre in Borehamwood, with location filming taking place elsewhere in the county – Danny Dyer was spotted filming at Welwyn Garden City’s Shredded Wheat site in 2018, and Ronnie Mitchell and Jack Branning's marriage was at Brocket Hall.

Herts is also the setting for a number of crime and murder mysteries, from TV series such as Agatha Christie's Poirot and Miss Marple to Inspector Morse and Midsomer Murders.

There are plenty of Sherlock Holmes clues to investigate in Herts if you dig deeper too, with Netflix movie Enola Holmes the most recent to be made here.

Tourism specialists reckon the county could attract more visitors through immersive experiences, film tours and trails, and dining experiences linked to Herts' TV and film heritage, encouraging tourists to extend their stay overnight.