Emerging Europe

‘Game of Thrones’ spurs Croat tourism, film industry

Katy Barnato in Zagreb, Croatia
Source: HBO

The wildly popular "Game of Thrones" TV series has spurred tourists' interest in visiting Croatia, where much of the epic TV fantasy is filmed. It could also help re-establish Croatia's reputation from Yugoslav days as a location for film-making.

"Thanks to 'Game of Thrones', many people are coming to visit the very old walls in Dubrovnik and Split," Croatia's deputy tourism minister, Ratomir Ivicic told CNBC. "Season five will be made in Sibenik—also a very beautiful place in Croatia."

The HBO series, which received a leading 19 Emmy nominations on Thursday, including best drama series, grew its audience 24 percent last season, delivering viewer tallies on a par with the final episodes of hit series "The Sopranos."

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Filmed in different spots across Europe, "Game of Thrones" has inspired interest in places like Dubrovnik, an ancient Croat port city and UNESCO World Heritage Site used to represent King's Landing. Special "Game of Thrones" tours are now available in both Dubrovnik and Split for those want to relive the show.

'Winds of War'

Several internationally renowned television programs and movies were shot in Croatia during the Yugoslav era. These included television miniseries "Winds of War" and "The Pope Must Die," a comedy starring Robbie Coltrane that was filmed just before the Croat Independence War erupted in 1991.

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While some film makers headed to the then-Yugoslav capital of Belgrade, most chose Croatia, the republic's filming hub. The city of Zagreb appealed because its typically central European appearance meant it could pass for Vienna—a more expensive place to shoot—or Prague, which was cheap but trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

Zagreb's large film studio remains to this day, but the carnage of the 1990s brought the industry to near-collapse. While some non-war-related filming continued in Zagreb, which was away from the frontline, most camera crews visited only to capture the violence.

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Croatia's film sector has yet to fully recover 20 years on, but has the chance to use the success of "Game of Thrones" to attract directors back.

Local business leader Ivica Mudrinic was positive about Croatia's prospects of building on the attention.

"Once something is successful, it usually draws in other similar projects. Time will tell. Clearly there are a set of component people here that can be drawn on, in addition to the benefits of the region itself," the head of the Croatian Employers' Association told CNBC in Zagreb.

—By CNBC's Katy Barnato in Zagreb, Croatia