Murder Shows Are Inspiring Vacations, from ‘The Killing’ to ‘Shetland’

Murder Shows Are Inspiring Vacations, from 'The Killing' to 'Shetland'

SCENERY TO DIE FOR A scene from the detective drama ‘Shetland,’ which helped to boost tourism to the remote Atlantic isles by 53%.

Photo: BritBox

AFTER HE WAS laid off from a publishing job, in 2009, Lewis Swan, a passionate James Bond fan based in London, thought he could build a business around touring film locations seen in blockbuster British franchises like Bond and Harry Potter. Brit Movie Tours took off, but it wasn’t long before requests took an unexpected turn for the homicidal. “There was a huge appetite for murder crime shows,” Mr. Swan recalled.

Over the years, he added several crime-focused offerings to his roster, including a Belfast walking tour of locations…

AFTER HE WAS laid off from a publishing job, in 2009, Lewis Swan, a passionate James Bond fan based in London, thought he could build a business around touring film locations seen in blockbuster British franchises like Bond and Harry Potter. Brit Movie Tours took off, but it wasn’t long before requests took an unexpected turn for the homicidal. “There was a huge appetite for murder crime shows,” Mr. Swan recalled.

Over the years, he added several crime-focused offerings to his roster, including a Belfast walking tour of locations seen in “Line of Duty,” a series centered on police corruption in an unspecified British city; half- and full-day options based on “Vera,” wherein a septuagenarian detective solves gruesome killings in northeast of England; and a bus tour through the counties northwest of London, which in the fictive world of “Midsomer Murders” have seen more than 250 suspicious deaths. “We’ll show people a clip or stills of the scene to refresh their memory,” Mr. Swan said. “We’ll say ‘In this episode, so-and-so was strangled, or shot.’ It’s quite exciting for them.”

Murder Shows Are Inspiring Vacations, from 'The Killing' to 'Shetland'

The Netflix series ‘Bloodline’ was set in Islamorada, in the Florida Keys. After the first season, which aired in 2015, a local economic impact survey concluded that tourism from the show created almost a thousand local jobs in the area.

Photo: Everett Collection

Increasingly, travelers are finding vacation inspiration in their go-to shows: a phenomenon that has yielded the coinage “set-jetting.” In 2019, 100 million holidaymakers chose their destination primarily based on seeing it in a film or on television, according to a global survey by travel intelligence firm TCI Research. One might visit New Zealand to inhabit the landscapes showcased in “Lord of the Rings,” or New York City to sit on the steps of Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment. Or, as it turns out, the Shetland Isles to see the spot where a severed hand washed up on a windswept beach in the BBC hit crime drama “Shetland.”

The latter, which is currently filming its sixth season, follows Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez as he investigates a string of murders on the lonely islands 130 miles north of mainland Scotland: a teenage girl here, a few human trafficking victims there. Tourism to Shetland has increased 53% since the show first aired, according to a 2019 survey by the Shetland Islands Council and VisitScotland, with more than a third of leisure visitors citing TV programs as their trip inspiration.

Murder Shows Are Inspiring Vacations, from 'The Killing' to 'Shetland'

Brit Movie Tours offers half-day and full-day bus tours of ‘Vera’ film locations in Northumberland, in northern England.

Photo: Everett Collection

At least three tour companies have developed offerings themed around the series. Les Sinclair, a native Shetlander who began running tours of the isles in the 1990s, says that his TV-themed tour now accounts for about half of his business. Sherry Wood booked one of them in 2019, having traveled from Winnipeg, Canada, for the express purpose of following in Jimmy Perez’s footsteps. “I still look at some of the pictures I took, and when I’m watching the show, I think, ‘I was there!’,” Ms. Wood says. “My husband teases me about it. I would love to go back. The only thing I would do differently is I’d probably go for longer.”

Across the North Sea, Christine Bordin, who owns and operates Nordic Noir Tours, says she’s taken thousands of guests—mainly Americans and Brits—on tours around Copenhagen based on the hit Danish crime shows “The Killing” and “The Bridge,” which aired until 2012 and 2018 respectively. “I’ve had a lot of people lie down on the crime scenes.”

TCI Intelligence estimates that one in 10 visits to Colombia today is directly influenced by “Narcos,” the
Netflix
crime thriller that first aired in 2015 and follows the exploits of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. After the first season of Netflix’s “Bloodline”—a dark tale of murder and family dysfunction in the village of Islamorada, in the Florida Keys—a local economic impact survey concluded that tourism from the show created almost a thousand local jobs in the area and generated local spending of $65 million. Area tour guides have woven “Bloodline” filming locations into their offerings, and realtors say they’ve seen housing prices surge.

Then there’s “Twin Peaks,” the mystery-horror series that first aired in 1990, following FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper as he investigates the murder of the town’s homecoming queen (a third season of the show ran in 2017). The luxury travel company Black Tomato offers a Peaks-themed trip to the small town of Snoqualmie, Wash., where the series was filmed; Salish Lodge & Spa, which appears on screen as the Great Northern Hotel, offers a popular package tied to the show. David Israel, a Twin Peaks superfan, has made a full-time career out of leading filming location tours since 2017, and says he has had participants from as far away as Russia and Australia travel to Washington expressly for the purpose of a “Twin Peaks” pilgrimage.

Murder Shows Are Inspiring Vacations, from 'The Killing' to 'Shetland'

‘Twin Peaks,’ the mystery-horror series that first aired in 1990 and then rebooted in 2017, was filmed in Washington State. The luxury travel company Black Tomato offers a Peaks-themed trip to the small town of Snoqualmie, Wash.

Photo: Everett Collection

In the case of HBO’s recent hit “Mare of Easttown,” set in Pennsylvania and starring Kate Winslet as an aloof detective investigating the murder of a teenage mom, intrepid viewers have already managed to locate a cluster of houses that appear in the series, including the split-level ranch that Mare calls home. “We started seeing more traffic in the area, started receiving complaints that people were getting out of their cars and taking pictures of the house, looking in the shed in back, looking in windows,” said David Splain, the chief of police of Nether Providence Township, where the homes are located. “One homeowner had to call the police and eventually put ‘Do Not Trespass’ signs on the lawn.”

While no enterprising fan has put together a noninvasive Mare tour of Delaware County—yet—it might not be a bad idea. Outings based on crime dramas are currently among Brit Movie Tours’ most popular offerings, said Mr. Swan, up there with “Downton Abbey” and Harry Potter. “Murder in itself is something people are fascinated by, and when you blend that with really interesting locations that you see in your living room on a weekly basis, it creates a seductive pull,” he said. “Death, as the old adage goes, does sell.”

Case the Joint

Crime dramas whose super-fans can soak up the atmosphere on holiday

Murder Shows Are Inspiring Vacations, from 'The Killing' to 'Shetland'

The Salish Lodge & Spa in Snoqualmie, Wash. doubles as the Great Northern Hotel in ‘Twin Peaks.’

Photo: Salish Lodge & Spa

‘Shetland’

(Streaming on Britbox)

Shetland native Les Sinclair leads a full-day tour covering sites that will be familiar to fans of the TV show, including the police station in Lerwick; the dramatic cliffs of Eshaness, where one unlucky victim is shot and falls to his death; and Jimmy Perez’s (fictional) home, which Mr. Sinclair says has become undoubtedly the most photographed building in Shetland. From $100 per person, roundaboutshetland.co.uk

‘Midsomer Murders’

(Streaming on Acorn TV and Britbox)

One of Brit Movie Tours’ most popular offerings, this eight-hour bus tour takes in the thatched cottages and Norman churches populating quaint little villages northwest of London—“chocolate box England,” as Lewis Swan puts it—which have served as the backdrop for hundreds of murders over the course of 24 years (and counting) on “Midsomer Murders.” From $85 per person for a full-day tour, britmovietours.com

‘Twin Peaks’

(Streaming on Showtime and Hulu)

The “real” Twin Peaks is Snoqualmie, Wash., a town east of Seattle known for a dramatic waterfall (pictured) that will be recognizable from the show’s opening credits. For ‘Peaks’ pilgrims, the Salish Lodge & Spa, which doubles as the Great Northern Hotel, FBI Agent Dale Cooper’s home base, offers a themed package including two Dale Cooper cocktails and a map of filming locations, such as the real-life counterparts to Twin Peaks High School, the Double R Diner, and Ronette’s Bridge. From $370 per night, salishlodge.com

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