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Location vacations

TV and movie buffs are lining up to visit the scene of their favorite scenes. Entrepreneurs are taking note.
Scene from The Davinci Code
Scene from The Davinci CodeEverett Collection
/ Source: Forbes

Paola Carpentiere, a native of Milan, Italy, considers herself a Sex and the City fanatic. She owns all six seasons of the HBO series on DVD and boasts she knows all things Sex (Where did Carrie and Miranda suffer through a terribly awkward double date? Tortilla Flats, in Manhattan's West Village). So when work brought her to New York in October, she scheduled her trip around a single event--a three-and-half-hour bus tour of locations that figured prominently in the show.

Carpentiere isn’t the only one seeking out Hollywood-themed tours on her travels. These tours have become increasingly popular as entrepreneurs look to please fans who aren't satisfied just watching their favorite shows and movies--they want to see the scenery as well. Tour operators estimate there are about 100 entertainment-themed trips around the world, ranging from a three-hour, $32 bus tour of Boston film sites to a nine-day, $2,849 Harry Potter-themed excursion around the U.K.

“People don’t want to just see anymore, they want to do, too,” says Judith Thomas, a tour operator and president of the National Tour Association trade group.

The big and small screens have long proved a travel brochure for their respective destinations. The first of them is believed to be The Sound of Music, which has lured tour goers to its Austrian setting since its release in 1965. Thousands still flock to see the Salzburg sites, including the Mirabell Gardens (where Maria and the von Trapp children sang "Do-Re-Mi") and Mondsee Cathedral (where Maria married Baron von Trapp), each year.

But the power of DVDs, the Internet and a cultural fascination with all things celebrity has fueled more interest in such destinations--and travel entrepreneurs are quick to satisfy the niche.

Among them is 32-year-old Georgette Blau, creator of New York’s Sex and the City tour, who launched her On Location tour company eight years ago while working in publishing. Living on Manhattan's Upper East Side at the time, she found herself passing by the apartment building featured in 1970s sitcom The Jeffersons. Why not show that building and other ones made famous (or kind of famous) by Hollywood?

Today, her 23-man company runs four tours in New York (the Jeffersons building used to be featured in one of them but is no longer on the itinerary), and just launched a new one in Washington, D.C.

Blau says her Sex and the City tour is the most popular, drawing about 1,000 fans--almost all of whom are women--each week. For $38, fans of the series jam into a gold colored coach bus to visit some 40 New York City sites from the show. A self-described sexpert provides anecdotes, trivia and plays relevant clips from the show. The highlight is a stop at 66 Perry Street, whose exterior served as the stand-in for Carrie Bradshaw’s Upper East Side apartment.

When the tour first launched in October 2001, Perry Street residents were hesitant about the specter of hundreds of tourists traipsing down their otherwise quiet, tree-lined block each week. But five years--and several donations from Blau's company to the Perry Street Block Association--later, the complaints have died down. “The groups are extremely conscientious and sensitive [to our residents],” says Gerald Banu, a Perry Street resident. “They don’t bring the bus on the block, they line up quietly and they sit dutifully on the stoop.”

Hawaii Movie Tours creator Bob Jasper, who leads tourists to Jurassic Park locations among others, is now licensing his trademarked name, Movie Tours. Since 2003, spin-offs in Monterey, Calif., San Francisco and Boston have opened up for business.

“When we started eleven years ago, people didn’t think a lot about going to see specific locations, they were more interested in the storylines,” says Jasper. “But as time has gone on, we have become a country infatuated with celebrities and being in the places they were.”

Tour operators say creating an entertainment-themed trip is harder than it looks. “Creating a tour is very similar to creating an actual movie," says Boston Movie Tour founder Jeff Coveney. "After you’ve done the research, interviews and movie watching, you have to turn the content into an engaging production.”

Prerequisites include proper equipment, engaging scripts and legal know-how. While anyone with the right resources can open up a tour, operators have to take care not to suggest that they are affiliated with the movies and shows discussed on their trips. Operators can typically get away with using show names in their titles, but usually use a different typeface in their promotional materials. The legality of showing clips from movies and shows during the tours seems to be up for debate. Sex and the City tour guide Blau says the 30-second clips she shows are OK, while a spokesman for Time Warner's (nyse: TWX - news - people ) HBO says no footage should be shown on the tours without the company's OK.

Carpentiere, the avid Sex and the City viewer, finds the effort worthwhile. “I’ll be back tomorrow to see the sites again,” she says at the conclusion of the tour.