This past winter, Rebecca Kalivoda and her husband, Pete, who live in Houston, were trying -- and failing -- to think of a place to vacation, and celebrate her 30th birthday and their fifth wedding anniversary.
"Vegas, New York, New Orleans… nothing was clicking," she told The Huffington Post.
Then, one night in February, the Kalivodas noticed that Woody Allen's Oscar-winning "Midnight in Paris" was available on demand. A longtime fan of his movies, Rebecca Kalivoda decided to watch and was entranced by the movie -- and the city in which it was set.
"The second I saw it, I said, 'I have to go there'," she said. "How could you not fall in love with Paris after seeing that movie?"
As the credits rolled, Kalivoda half-jokingly suggested a Paris vacation. Pete wasn't immediately convinced -- the trip would cost more than they'd originally planned, and though both of them had traveled abroad, they'd never done so together. But over the following weeks, he came around -- and agreed to a five-day sojourn in the City of Light.
The Kalivodas are far from alone. Seven of Woody Allen's last eight movies, including "To Rome With Love," which was released in New York and Los Angeles Friday, have been set in Europe. And according to tourist officials in the cities where the movies are set, they've boosted travel among a certain set of cinephile tourists.
"Manhattan" and "Annie Hall" may be the movies that sold 1,000 Upper East Side co-op apartments. But "Match Point," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," "Midnight in Paris" and now "To Rome With Love" are the films that inspired countless European vacations.
Adrian Wootton, the CEO of FilmLondon, a group that supports London's film industry and helped attract Allen to film "Match Point" in London, said that surveys have shown 1 in 10 foreigners who visit the United Kingdom do so because of images they've seen in movies. Such tourism generates 2 billion pounds a year for the British economy, he said.
Wootton said that FilmLondon used footage, stills and quotes from Allen's four London movies to promote the city. The group also worked with tourism group VisitLondon to craft a "Match Point" map of the city.
One way Allen's movies lure tourists is that they are shot, to some extent, from the perspective of an adoring tourist. "He loves to shoot in those iconic famous locations, and he often films them quite beautifully," Wootton explained.
One of the opening shots in "To Rome With Love" shows American tourist Hayley (Alison Pill) staring perplexedly at a tourist map in a Roman plaza. She's saved by local Adonis Michelangelo (Flavio Parente), who quickly becomes her fiance. Now that's a vacation.
Allen makes these cities look so enticing, in fact, that a cottage industry of city tours has sprung up to allow tourists to literally follow in his protagonists' footsteps.
Tour guide Cristina Belenguer said that she discusses "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" every week on "Barcelona: The Movie Walking Tour," which she leads for tour company Icono Serveis. She's also gotten occasional requests for private tours that adhere to a strict "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" itinerary.
"The movie is a tour. If you watch this movie, you're having a tour through Barcelona," she said. "It's a great advertisement for the city."
The demand for "Midnight in Paris" tours is so high that the company Paris Underbelly keeps one on its permanent menu. Miranda Crispin, an American who co-founded the company in December 2010, said the "Midnight in Paris" tour was the company's most popular for a brief time after the movie's release, in the summer of 2011. It consistently ranks in the top two or three today.
Many of the people who take Paris Underbelly's "Midnight in Paris" tour are visiting from Allen's home turf in the New York area, she said. And many of them seem to share Allen's famed technophobia.
"For our other tours, we rarely get phone calls -- almost all of our clients book online," she said. "But this is the tour that a lot of people call us for, and want us to call them back."
She added that many of these visitors have already been to Paris, so they tend to expect a lot from their guides.
"The people taking this tour know quite a lot about what they're about to see, so it's not a garden variety tour where you walk them in front of a monument and say, 'This is this monument,'" she said.
The Kalivodas are not from New York and had never been to Paris before their trip in May, but Rebecca Kalivoda was so taken with "Midnight in Paris" that there was no way she was going to pass up the opportunity to see all the sites from the movie. The Paris Underbelly tour was the first stop on their five-day trip. And though Rebecca had watched Allen's movie, by her own account, "100 times" between February and the trip, it didn't disappoint.
"It was awesome," she said. "We went to the steps where he picks up the car every night. It was just so cool to see it -- and all the sites that they show at the beginning of the movie. You just feel like you're right there."
Kalivoda said that she loved Paris so much that she wants to go on more Woody Allen-themed trips. When she heard "To Rome With Love" was set in the capital of Italy, she decided, "That'll be the next city on my list."
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