H&E North selects some of television’s most iconic set locations to inspire your next client trip or conference abroad.
We’re lucky to be living in a golden age of television, where small screen shows are rivaling Hollywood’s best efforts. Tremendous creativity fuelled by eye-watering budgets has given us acclaimed series like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, international streaming platforms bringing smart, slick entertainment to the comfort of our living rooms. While this glut of good TV has kept us glued to our sofas – it’s also inspired event professionals to shake up their conferences and incentive trips by hosting them in the real-life locations of our favourite shows.
The bleisure concept (mixing business with leisure) is becoming a familiar sight across the corporate event travel market. As a recent travel trends report by TripAdvisor showed one in five global holidaymakers admitted to having visited a destination because they saw it on a show, event planners are following suite.
From fried chicken joints to nuclear reactors, growing numbers of TV-inspired planners are hosting events in destinations that might not tally with the traditional idea of a pleasure resort. But through tapping into attendees’ slavish devotion to the latest hit series, taking events off the beaten track is an effective way to set your event apart from the rest. This novelty value coupled with the endless theming opportunities makes for an instantly sharable event, driving higher attendance rates and putting your event on the map.
For Breaking Bad / Better Call Saul, visit Albuquerque
Despite AMC’s Breaking Bad departing our television screens over a decade ago, the dusty New Mexico city of Albuquerque is still teeming with fans of the celebrated neo-Western crime drama. Over 100,000 pilgrims come from far and wide each year to relive the antics of unlikely drug-dealing duo, chemistry teacher Walter White and former pupil Jesse Pinkman, while the ongoing spin-off prequel that put Walter’s criminal lawyer, James McGill (AKA. Saul Goodman) in the spotlight has recently ignited a further rocket up the tourism industry of New Mexico’s largest city.
This city on the edges the Sandia Mountains draws more than six million visitors a year and is home to a unique multicultural heritage, and a vibrant food and drink scene, boasting over 50 craft beer taprooms, perfect for unwinding post-conference. By night, Albuquerque is bathed in the glow of neon signs, relics of the historic Route 66, that scythes through a desolate sea of cactus-strewn desert that forms the ever-present backdrop to Walter’s rise and fall.
Its spectacular climes – boasting 310 days of sunshine – make it perfect for outdoor team building, whether that’s skiing across Sandia Peak or playing some of the best golf courses in the Southwest. Albuquerque is also the hot air ballooning capital of the world, offering a great opportunity to get to know potential clients while enjoying a bird’s eye view of the magnificent New Mexico terrain.
The show’s creator, Vince Gilligan’s initial pitch for the series envisioned the show in sunny California, but enticing tax breaks convinced the studio to shoot in the state of New Mexico. Incredibly, its tourism has thrived off the back of its fictional depiction as a meth haven. There are plenty of quirky Breaking Bad sightseeing and team building events for delegates to enjoy, local businesses cashing in on the show’s success by offering a range of bizarre ventures including cooking classes, location tours and sweet shops selling bags of blue rocks (of the sugar variety). The city’s most famous location tour sees RVs the spitting image of Walter White’s mobile meth lab drive fans around the city’s more familiar spots, including the obligatory lunch stop at Gus Fring’s infamous Los Pollos Hermanos.
Event planners can choose from an abundance of meeting and conference locations, the largest of these being the Albuquerque Convention Center (ACC). Nestled between the breath-taking Sandia Mountains and the majestic Rio Grande River, the multipurpose event complex offers over 270,000 sq ft of meeting and exhibition space. 27 flexible meeting room accommodate intimate meetings of 10 people to receptions for 1,100. A 31,000 sq ft ballroom lends itself as a magnificent banquet space for up to 1,800 people while the 2,300-seat Kiva Auditorium is ideal for large-scale conferences and keynote sessions.
A selection of 17,000 rooms are available across hotels available to host meetings large and small. Located in the heart of vibrant downtown Albuquerque, Hotel Andaluz Albuquerque from the Curio Collection by Hilton offers 7000 sq ft of dramatic Latino-inspired event space. Meeting rooms are equipped with high-tech audio-visual facilities alongside historic period details, while secluded outdoor patio spaces make the ideal setting for drinks receptions.
Airlines including US Airways, Delta, and British Airways offer one stop flights to Albuquerque International Sunport from Manchester and Edinburgh airports.
For Game of Thrones, visit Dubrovnik
For the small coastal town of Dubrovnik, doubling as King’s Landing in the hit HBO fantasy series, Game of Thrones has been a mixed blessing. Its rise to fame has been a boon for tourism but has placed a huge strain on local infrastructure already struggling with overcrowding. In 2017, Dubrovnik’s mayor implemented its ‘Respect the City’ plan, limiting the number of overseas visitors to 4,000 at a time, as the town risked becoming overrun by the 750,000 ardent fans disembarking from over 500 cruise ships.
However, there are plenty of local ships exempt from the scheme, that will sail you around Dubrovnik and its surrounding islands, many with on-board catering facilities and event spaces. The Karaka is a replica of a 16th century Dubrovnik war ship, preserving the spirit of the port’s famed naval history and accommodating corporate events for up to 200. With a full catering service, you can enjoy a banquet or drinks reception by day or by night with a backdrop of your choosing, the mahogany period interiors decorated to match your theme.
Since the series first aired back in 2011, more than 4,500 Thrones-inspired ventures have sprung up across the region, offering walking tours of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, where ‘thronies’ are acquainted with the capital of the Seven Kingdoms. Its UNESCO-listed walled city is a labyrinth of narrow lanes and stone houses. Visitors can climb the walls and walk the circumference of the town, every section offering stunning views of terracotta rooftops tumbling away into the glimmering Adriatic.
While there’s no dedicated convention centre, the 407-room Sun Gardens Dubrovnik boasts the largest conference space in the city. A ballroom and seven meeting rooms offer just shy of 2,000 sq ft of event space, while its spa, acknowledged as one of Croatia’s best, allows delegates to unwind with an 18-metre indoor pool, a waterfall, and various saunas. Other MICE hotels in Dubrovnik include the 244-room Grand Hotel Park, which has three meeting rooms, the largest able to host 220 and the 180-room Valamar Dubrovnik President, with reception space for up to 220.
If you’re looking to get creative with your event, the Dubrovnik Cable Car will lift delegates over the city walls to a 120-seat amphitheatre available for hire, situated next to the Panorama Restaurant & Bar offering an authentic taste of the region with spectacular views of Lapad Bay.
One of the town’s most scenic spots, once an important hub for seafarers arriving in the western part of the city, became the setting for Blackwater Bay. This tranquil cove which formed the set of the bloody Battle of the Blackwater, offers views of the 11th century Lovrijenac Fort, renowned for staging the infamous Red Wedding scene, and available for exclusive hire for the modest price of €4,000. With panoramic views of the walled city, the fort hosts Dubrovnik’s annual Summer Festival on its open-air stage, alongside gala dinner events, receptions and Game of Thrones-inspired evenings for groups of up to 300.
The picturesque botanical parks of Tresteno Arboretum, situated 10 miles up the coast from Dubrovnik, will be a familiar sight for fans. Standing in for the Red Keep’s gardens, this 15th century arboretum, with its tall hedges and secretive leafy nooks, played the serene backdrop for conspiring Lannisters and Tyrells. Surrounded by Roman aqueducts, water mills, and fountain nymphs, the garden’s Gothic-Renaissance belvedere commands a seaward view of the Elaphite islands, providing a spectacular backdrop for gala dinners. Yet some of the garden’s fictional frequenters weren’t as enraptured as the tourists – as Lady Olenna lamented to her granddaughter in season three: “If I have to take one more leisurely stroll through this garden, I’m going to throw myself off a cliff!”
Dubrovnik International Airport is located 10 miles southeast of the city in the suburb of Cilipi, served by seasonal services flying from Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham airports.