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‘Game of Thrones’ gives Northern Ireland tourism boost

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The British province of Northern Ireland has received an economic boost from the hit HBO series “Game of Thrones”, which has just completed its fourth season.

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The fourth season of HBO’s wildly popular series “Game of Thrones” drew to a close on June 15. Millions of fans across the world are bracing themselves for a several-month wait until the next installment of episodes based on George R. R. Martin’s novels.

But the show’s most fervent fans can visit the real-world locations that serve as backdrops for the politically charged fantasy saga, much to the delight of Northern Ireland and its economy.

Much of the series is indeed shot in the British province, where the series’ directors found inspiration for the fictional landscapes of Westeros (including the castle of Winterfell and the Kings Road, locations that will be familiar to loyal viewers). Starting around one year ago, Northern Ireland’s tourism officials published an online guide detailing visits that catered to hardcore “Game of Thrones” fans.

Now Northern Irish authorities are hoping that the show’s growing popularity will draw even larger numbers of tourists -- there were 1.8 million visitors in 2013, and tourism officials are reportedly aiming for 2 million in 2014.

Queen Elizabeth, superfan?

Those aims may very well be realistic. The “Game of Thrones Tour” concocted by McComb’s Travel, a Belfast-based tour organising agency, saw a spike in reservations following the Season 4 finale, according to US media reports.

“[T]he really great thing is, these are not people who are coming to Northern Ireland anyway. They are coming because of ‘Game of Thrones’,” Christine McComb, one of the agency’s owners, told British daily The Guardian.

Perhaps the highest-profile participant in the wave of “Game of Thrones” tourism is Queen Elizabeth II, who stopped by the series’ set at Belfast’s Titanic Studios during a visit to Northern Ireland on Tuesday.

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