Outlander and Scottish tourism
Now that a premiere date for Outlander has been announced, we are slowly yet surely seeing press coverage about the series tick up. One such article published recently got me to thinking. Outlander already has a large and loyal fan base. What impact has there been, if any, on Scotland’s economy and culture? And what can we expect to change after the series starts airing?
First, let me start with the article that intrigued me, published by a site called “We Love Soaps,” who bill themselves as the “World’s biggest champion of scripted, serialized storytelling on TV & the web.” I guess the Outlander TV series does fit that description, although I would never call it a Soap! The bit of the article to catch my eye was this:
The fervent on-line fan base totals over a half-million and when the ‘first-look’ photo of Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser posted on the Starz social channels, it outperformed other introductions of lead characters for properties such as The Great Gatsby (Gatsby), Hunger Games (Katniss), Game of Thrones (Ned Stark), and NBC’s Dracula (Dracula). Additionally, when Sam was cast as Jamie Fraser, the fans took it upon themselves to make their voices heard and put him on E! News’ “Hottie of the Week” charts two weeks in a row (which is very rare, if not unprecedented). In addition, #Outlander trended (was one of the top ten things being talked about on Twitter) numerous times during NY ComicCon. Starz Summer 2014 New Series: ‘Power’ and ‘Outlander’
It is apparent the size and fervency of the Outlander fan base has already been noticed and its impact noted. One example is the recent Twitter trending event held on May 19 for #WorldWideTVNeedsOutlander. The tag trended globally and the fact was highlighted in the introduction of Outlander during the L.A. Screenings event for international TV buyers that same day. You can see Diana Gabaldon — author of the bestselling Outlander series of novels — tweet about that here:
Outlander‘s impact on Scotland is already apparent from the number of Outlander-focused tours which have sprung up over the years. I, myself, dragged my mother around to various sites mentioned in the books during our trip to Scotland in 2006, although I never thought at the time to look for an Outlander-based tour. Others, however, were quick to note a new kind of interest in some of Scotland’s historical sites. I think Hugh Allison of Inverness Tours explains it well:
Over a decade ago, when I was manager of Culloden Battlefield, we began to notice a difference in some of the questions being asked, in the visitor centre. With a little investigation it became clear that the reason for this was the growing body of people who were reading the Outlander series of books. These readers were all then making the odyssey to Scotland because the stories and histories had been made real to them in such an eloquent way.
That’s Diana’s greatest gift, in my opinion: the accessibility that she gives to all of the sweeping tales of past times. I have been taking people on Outlander Tours for many years now – and because of the mix of fascinating, real locations and vivid people in her stories, these tours offer something for everyone. That applies whether they have read the books or not.
Alastair Cunningham of Clans and Castles, another operator of Outlander-based tours, has noticed the same trends:
Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books have already had a huge impact on tourist numbers to Scotland. Our experience is that many people who never previously gave a thought to the Scottish Highlands have been inspired by this fascinating story which weaves through castles, clans and the Gaelic culture. The TV series will add the wonderful countryside to the mix, and so will certainly further swell the numbers.
It is interesting to note that most of the Outlander focused tours have sprung up through small independent tour operators instead of big corporate tour companies. I spoke with Susan Brown, who tweets from @outlandertour and is currently in the final planning stages for a slate of Outlander tour offerings, and she sees the publicity that will result from Outlander as an economic boon to entrepreneurs like her. Only now are the bigger tour companies catching on to the Outlander bandwagon. But they may not have many true-fan guides who have read the books and who can give as much of an immersive experience.
So it is hoped the Outlander phenomena which has been building for years — the Outlander Effect as I have dubbed it — will have a positive economic effect on Scotland. It certainly is likely to help bolster the economic stability of the region, especially the tourism industry, and may even lead to some economic growth. Producing the TV series in Scotland is already pumping millions of pounds into the Scottish economy and based on what I know of the fan base, I predict that next summer will be a banner year for tourism in Scotland.
Outlander and Gàidhlig culture
Long feared in danger of extinction, Gàidhlig culture in Scotland appears to be experiencing somewhat of a rebound. How much of that is from the Buaidh Outlander — Gàidhlig for Outlander Effect – remains to be seen, but more than the tourism industry is being influenced by Outlander fans. There is also a renewed interest in Scots Gàidhlig culture and language, drawn by the novels’ liberal use of Gàidhlig phrases and other aspects of Highland culture. Many Outlander fans have been moved to learn more about these cultural aspects of Scotland – or Alba as it’s known in the Gàidhlig. This blog, in particular, was started by me to focus on those parts of the Outlander universe that delve into this fascinating aspect of Scotland’s culture.
Apparently many others are interested too. Thanks to the splendid tutelage of Àdhamh Ó Broin — the Outlander production’s Gàidhlig tutor extraordinaire — I have been building a list of Gàidhlig name translations for Outlander fans. It is by far the most popular post on the Great Scot! Blog; to date it has had over 4,700 views. The ‘How to Speak Outlander’ series of videos produced by STARZ has also proven to be very popular.
Simply wanting to know a Gàidhlig translation for their name is just a starting point for some fans. Spurred on by a desire to know more, I know of several fans who have gone to considerable time and trouble to begin to speak and read Gàidhlig . For example, one small group of fans have created their own Gàidhlig curriculum using books and videos, and even meet on Skype to practice. Another fan, Lori Renfro, has gone even farther. Here is her story in her own words:
It was because of Outlander that I developed the awareness of Gaelic. I began listening to music in Gaelic by singers and groups like Runrig, Cappercaillie, Kathleen MacInnes, and others. I fell in love with the language and wanted to know what they were saying. I dabbled around trying to learn bits on my own, but decided the best way to properly learn would be to take a class. I eventually came across Atlantic Gaelic Academy out of Nova Scotia. I started my first class about 5 years ago but dropped out after a few months. I just wasn’t keeping up like I needed to. This year I decided to get back to it and just completed my first full year. I learned a lot, but also feel like I know very little in the scheme of things. I’ll be starting year two in the fall.
So how does this Outlander-generated interest in Gàidhlig culture go over in Scotland? Outlander’s Gàidhlig coach Àdhamh Ó Broin has this to say:
I hope that by presenting the language within the context of a beautifully crafted American TV series, it will not only capture the imaginations of those not yet familiar with Scottish Gaelic but also re-invigorate the interest of Scots themselves in the oldest yet living branch of their native culture, ideally contributing to a passionate generation of new learners and speakers.
Hugh Allison concurs:
The worldwide interest that is building as the series release date approaches is bound to help Scotland. Stories that would otherwise have disappeared forever into obscurity have been found by Diana, and then massaged perfectly into the narrative of her tale, ensuring their survival and their exposure to millions of readers.
My own hopes about the Outlander Effect echo the above sentiments. My greatest wish for Scotland is for the Outlander series to serve as a means of expanding awareness of Gàidhlig culture. Awareness and appreciation is important, both for a worldwide audience, and also for Scots, themselves, to reconnect with their own history, language, and culture. The hit theatrical production Riverdance provided such an opportunity for Ireland and I hope Outlander does the same for Scotland.
Outlander is truly for all who love Scotland, both in Alba, and worldwide.
Resources mentioned in this post:
Inverness Tours – http://www.invernesstours.com/
Clans and Castles – http://www.clansandcastles.com/
Susan Brown – Twitter @OutlanderTours
Atlantic Gaelic Academy – http://www.gaelicacademy.ca/
LearnGaelic.net – http://www.learngaelic.net/
am baile: highland history and culture - http://www.ambaile.org.uk/en/
Many thanks to Laura C. for obtaining several of the quotes used in this post and for invaluable copy-editing skills.
Also, thanks to Candida N. for reviewing many drafts and being the enforcer, I mean editor, I sorely needed. :-)