The Forever Twilight Festival: A Case Study of Literary Tourism as an Economic Stimulus
By Emma Coleman
Literary tourism, a. subset of cultural tourism, encompasses tourism “motivated by interest in an author, a literary creation or setting, or the literary heritage of a destination” (Smith, Macleod, and Robertson 2010,1). This phenomenon takes place on an international scale, with the most popular literary tourism destinations ranging from 221B Baker Street in London, UK to the home of Fyodor Dostoevsky in St. Petersburg, Russia (Alen 2009,1). In the context of the American romance industry, literary tourism has manifested in several locations relevant to prominent romance novelists such as Nora Roberts and Debbie Macomber. Specifically, tourists visit Port Orchard, Washington to visit Macomber’s home and her inspiration for the Cedar Cove franchise (“Inn History” n.d.,1) as well as Boonsboro, MD to attend Roberts signings and stay at the Inn Boonsboro, which inspired The Inn Boonsboro Trilogy (Henry 2018, 1). More recently, this form of literary tourism has blossomed in the small, economically depressed town of Forks, Washington, the setting of Stephanie Meyer‘s Twilight series. Beginning in September 2006, less than a year after Meyer published Twilight, the Forever Twilight Festival (FTF) has annually drawn tourists to Forks to partake in a three day-long celebration of the series (Major 2017,1). The rise of the FTF sparked clashes among locals regarding the influx of Twilight tourism and its impacts on the Forks community; however, as an impetus for annual literary tourism, the FTF ultimately led to economic revival of Forks’s formerly depressed economy. In arguing this point, this report will discuss the Twilight franchise and its following, the economic condition of Forks before Twilight tourism, the impact of the FTF on Forks’s economy, and the local conflicts it produced.
The Twilight Franchise
Over the course of four volumes, the Twilight series chronicles the love story of Forks-newcomer Isabella “Bella” Swan and vampire Edward Cullen. In doing so, it chronicles Bella’s experiences as a love triangle emerges with werewolf Jacob Black, dangerous vampire covens encroach on Forks, and her relationship with Edward navigates marriage, morality, and Bella’s human vulnerability. Stephanie Meyer published the series’ titular first book, Twilight, on October 5, 2005; the following three novels New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn were published on August 21, 2006, August 7, 2007, and August 2, 2008 (“The Twilight Saga” n.d., 1). The subsequent five cinematic adaptations (Breaking Dawn resulted in two movies) starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner came to theaters on November 21, 2008, November 20, 2009, June 30, 2010, November 18, 2011, and November 16, 2012 (“The Twilight Saga” n.d., 1). Together, these books and movies comprised the basis of the Twilight franchise and fandom.
Images 1 & 2: Book covers and movie posters for the Twilight saga
Within a month of the first month of its release in October 2005, Twilight hit #5 on The New York Times Bestseller list (Sims n.d.,1). Also during this time frame, Amazon named the novel as the “Best Book of the Decade…So Far” and Publisher’s Weekly noted it as the “Best Book of the Year” (Sims,1). As Meyer released additional books in the series, its popularity continued to grow. Specifically, New Moon was #1 on The New York Times Bestseller list for over 25 weeks and Eclipse ultimately reached the top of The New York Times Bestseller list for series books for 2007, beating out J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 2018,1). Building upon these accolades, Breaking Dawn sold 1.3 million copies in the US on its first day (Sims n.d.,1), eventually becoming the third-bestselling book of 2008 behind Twilight and New Moon (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 2018,1). The success of the books of the Twilight series translated to the popularity of their film adaptations, which exposed the franchise to an even broader audience. With a production budget of only $37 million (Barnes 2009, 1), Twilight’s global box office revenue reached $393.6 million (“Twilight Movies at the Box Office” n.d.,1). The following movies surpassed these earnings with the following global gross revenues: $709.7 million for New Moon, $698.5 million for Eclipse, $712.2million for Breaking Dawn Part 1, and $829.7 million for Breaking Dawn Part 2 (“Twilight Movies at the Box Office” n.d.,1). For further information on the distribution of this revenue, refer to Figure 1. Jointly, Twilight series and movies garnered extreme popularity in the United States and beyond, creating a consumer base for Twilight tourism.
Forks Before Twilight
Though the international acclaim of the Twilight series brought it to the forefront of popular culture, Forks, Washington has a rich history predating its affiliation with Twilight tourism. Established in 1945, Forks initially gained recognition for its proximity to an abundant natural resource. Situated amidst the Hoh rainforest, Forks served as a national access point to lush lumber reserves, including seemingly inexhaustible cloisters of Amabolis and Douglas firs, Oregon maples, Sitka spruces, Western hemlocks, and Western red cedars (Chapman 2010, 1). Such natural wealth presented a new market for the timber industry, creating opportunities for unskilled labor. As a result, Forks established its identity in tandem with the growth of logging enterprises in the area. This trend continued until the late 1980s when the combined effects of tightened federal regulations on logging and the economic decline of a nationwide recession halted Forks’s lumber industry (Crowe 2013, 1-25). These restrictions, in combination with myriad other economic shifts nationally and globally, catalyzed a series of buyouts and outsourcing that crippled Washington timber towns like Forks (Crowe 2013, 1-25). Ultimately, 70% of regional jobs relating to the forest products industry disappeared (Chapman 2010,1), and timber harvests in the Pacific Northwest decreased by 80% (Crowe 2013,1-25). Together, these circumstances bred a long-lasting economic decline in Forks, forcing the town to reconcile its desire for its nostalgic past with the necessity of adaptation to overcome its fiscal challenges.
Throughout the 1990s, the people of Forks struggled to redefine themselves. Due to its geographical isolation and lack of a niche industry, Forks residents lacked employment opportunities; this predicament produced an unemployment rate of 14.6% in 1999, twice Washington’s statewide average at the time (Crowe 2013, 1-25). In a bid to remedy this issue, Forks looked to capitalize on their natural surroundings in a new way. Rather than harvesting resources from their environment, residents of Forks instead elected to promote itself as a destination for travelers interested in exploring the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Located on the west end of the Olympic Peninsula, Forks is a convenient access point for the Hoh Rain Forest, the Bogachiel Rain Forest, Lake Crescent, Lake Ozette, Lake Quinault, as well as a plethora of campsites and pristine beaches in Olympic National Park and the nearby Quileute reservation (“Must See Places” n.d.,1). To facilitate these rebranding efforts, Forks needed to expand its capital by expanding its infrastructure so that it could sustain a greater number of tourists. Between 1995 and 2005, the town welcomed two new motels and nine new bed and breakfasts to aid these efforts (Tilden 2015,1). By raising the carrying capacity for tourism and priming Forks residents for a broader shift in their local identity, these developments put Forks in an optimal position for future commercial expansion, like Twilight tourism.
Forks After Twilight: Local Debates
As the Twilight series gained national and then international attention, so did the real-world Forks and La Push. Beginning as early as late 2005, Twilight fans journeyed to these places to see its setting inspiration in person. Prior to the emergence of Twilight tourism, Forks welcomed approximately 75 visitors per month; contrastingly, 2,000-4,000 tourists visited Forks each month of 2008, a 3400% increase from a mere three years before (Crowe 2013, 1-25). This surge in tourism fundamentally altered Forks, catalyzing debates among residents of Forks and neighboring La Push. Whereas supporters of Twilight tourism cite the economic opportunities it creates, critics believe that it distorts local culture and perpetuates inequality. By examining both perspectives, this section provides insight into the environment that produced the FTF and its multifaceted impact on Forks’ economy and culture.
The predominant cause of opposition is local perception that Twilight tourism distorts Forks’ local culture and disrupts residents’ way of life. With a population of just 3,000 people, annual influxes of thousands of tourists create strain on the towns limited infrastructure (Tilden 2015,1) For example, locals consistently reference elevated traffic, longer waits at businesses, and crowds at the hospital and the police station as well as well as intrusions upon the private residence resembling Twilight’s Swan household (McBride 2009,1). In addition to these logistical complaints, many believe that Meyer’s portrayal of Forks is inaccurate, and tourists impose these beliefs onto the town and its residents. Unlike the authors central to many other literary tourism destinations (e.g. Nora Roberts and Boonsboro, Debbie Macomber and Port Orchard), Meyer had no relationship with Forks prior to writing Twilight and didn’t visit the town until after it was published (Banse 2015,1). Instead, she selected Forks as her setting because it is the rainiest location in the continental U.S. (Tilden 2015,1); local critics feel that Meyer resultantly reduced Forks to its bleak weather (Banse 2015,1). Others, such as the vocal “Hallelujah Bill”, protest Meyer’s representation of Forks and related tourism because they feel it promotes the occult, thereby conflicting with their religious beliefs (McBride 2009,1).
Members of the Quileute tribe, which has a reservation in nearby La Push, echoed concerns of invasion of privacy and cultural exploitation by tourists. In 2010, MSN.com validated these worries when they trespassed onto the Quileute reservation cemetery and filmed sacred grave sites when filming footage to use in a promotional Twilight virtual tour; though MSN received permission from the Forks Chamber of Commerce, they failed to reach out to the Quileute (Riley 2010,1). This transgression illustrates the broader issue of Twilight tourists exploiting indigenous culture. Professor Angela Riley of UCLA described this issue, referencing the fact that the Quileute lose out on opportunities for profiting from Twilight tourism (Smith 2012,1). For example, retailers sell merchandise affiliated with the Quileute as part of the werewolf narrative in the Twilight series without tribal approval or compensation (Riley 2010,1).
In contrast to these points, some Forks and La Push locals view Twilight tourism as an opportunity to celebrate their hometowns and extend appreciation for their cultures to a broader public. Rather than perceiving attention from tourists as exoticism or perversion, some Forks residents believe it benefits the town by boosting morale and reducing monotony by introducing outside perspectives (Tilden 2015,1). Similarly, members of the Quileute tribe that support Twilight tourism believe that it promotes greater respect and understanding of their way of life. Chris Eyre, a Cheyenne-Arapacho filmmaker encapsulates this desire by stating, “[Twilight] shows Native Americans in a contemporary light …we want to see Native people in 2010. We’re tired of seeing Native people in 1860” (Smith 2012,1). As a sovereign Indian nation, the Quileute choose to open their reservation to outsiders, hosting group tours that offer traditional meals, describe tribal history, and present drum and healing circles (Nelson 2012,1). Additionally, after the tribe hired Jackie Jacobs as Tribal Publicist in 2009, the Quileute started hosting Quileute Day, an annual cultural celebration geared towards Twilight tourists (Nelson 2012,1). By providing visitors with these experiences, Quileute members have a market that can sustain their traditional arts, thus solidifying the continued legacy of their heritage in a modern era (Nelson 2012,1). Overall, the growth of Twilight tourism following the creation of the FTF bred conflict among Forks and La Push locals due to differing perspectives on its implications for the area’s culture.
Forks After Twilight: Economic Effects
Despite the aforementioned opposition by some locals, many of those that were receptive to tourism sought to capitalize on the economic opportunity that Twilight publicity presented. For example, owners of many existing local businesses (e.g. Leppell’s Flowers, Forks Outfitters) expanded their usual merchandise to include Twilight merchandise or tweaked and renamed products to make them Twilight themed (Hale 2018,1). Others capitalized on Twilight tourism by creating new businesses, such as tour services for Twilight landmarks in Forks and La Push and Dazzled by Twilight, a retailer that exclusively sold Twilight merchandise and related souvenirs (Smith 2012,1). These adaptations significantly aided these businesses’ success by expanding their customer demographic to attract the thousands of tourists visiting Forks. Alternatively, according to one Forks resident, business owners that opposed assimilation to Twilight tourism disappeared over time, thus demonstrating the significance of revenue generated by Twilight tourism as a decisive economic factor. Bruce Guckenberg, manager of the popular eatery Sully’s Drive-In, reiterated the long-term impacts of this dichotomy, observing, “The businesses that wanted to embrace it are still in business. The ones that were completely against it are not here anymore” (Hale 2018,1). In this way, the Twilight franchise completely reshaped Forks’s economic model, enriching institutions that supported the change and culling those that resisted it.
In order to support this transition, the Forks Chamber of Commerce invested in Twilight tourism by establishing the Forever Twilight Festival in September 2006 (Major 2017,1). Initially known as Stephanie Meyer Day, the Forever Twilight Festival is an annual, weekend-long celebration of the Twilight franchise and its enduring fandom that takes place in Forks every September (“Forever Twilight in Forks Festival” n.d.,1). This event represents the culmination of the Forks Chamber of Commerce’s partnership with the Twilight fandom community to promote long-run interest in the franchise. In essence, the Forks Chamber of Commerce heavily advertises the Forever Twilight Festival as the pinnacle of Twilight tourism and sells tickets for the event on its website (“Forever Twilight in Forks Festival” n.d.,1). Although FTF does not officially start until the Friday of the designated weekend, related activities, such as crafting, games, and thematic cooking classes, occur throughout the week before (“Forever Twilight in Forks Festival” n.d.,1). During the weekend, FTF organizers provide attendees with a plethora of Twilight-centric offerings, including cosplayer meet-and-greets, guest panels, costume contests, silent auctions, and tours. Fans also have the option to participate in the Very Important Twilighter (VIT) program for $325, which incorporates signature FTF events such as the “Come as Bella/Beau” Birthday Party, “Forks to Volterra” Gala, and group meals and pictures. In order to orchestrate these activities, the Forks Chamber of Commerce partially relies upon donations from businesses and fans of the Forever Twilight Festival, with the foremost being the Lloyd J. Allen Charitable Trust (“Forever Twilight in Forks Festival” n.d.,1). This method of financing the FTF underscores the need for reciprocity between locals and tourists to support literary tourism in the context of economic self-development.
Although the popularity of the Twilight series has waned, the Forever Twilight Festival continues to bring fans from across the world to Forks. In 2018, a decade after the release of the film adaptation of the first Twilight novel, Lissy Andros, the executive director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce, addressed these concerns: “As far as we’re concerned, as far as fans are concerned, the ‘Twilight’ phenomenon is not waning” (Hale 2018,1). While the number of tourists that visit Forks annually has decreased since the height of the Twilight boom in 2010, the Twilight tourism continues to have a strong presence in the Forks economy. In fact, Forks received about 41,000 tourists in 2017 relative to the roughly 880 they welcomed annually prior to Twilight’s release (Hale 2018,1). By maintaining interest in the Twilight franchise and providing fans with an outlet for community, the Forever Twilight Festival has played an important role in maintaining literary tourism as viable economic stimulant.
As the leading source of Twilight tourism, the Forever Twilight Festival is responsible for much of Forks’s economic upswing within the past decade. During its relatively brief history, FTF has enticed individuals from each state in the U.S. and travelers from countries like Germany and Japan to make the pilgrimage to Forks (Crowe 2013,1-25). By reliably incurring an influx of at least 1,000 people for the weekend, the Forever Twilight Festival stimulates the economy by bringing new customers to local businesses (Banse 2015,1). For example, Forks shops had a pre-Twilight daily summer revenue of $500-$800 in 2000 and a post-Twilight daily summer revenue of $5000-$6000 in 2010 (Crowe 2013,1-25). In turn, tourists also generate revenue for the local government by increasing profits from sales tax and specific hotel/motel taxes; specifically, profits from 2006-2009 were ten times those from 2003-2006 (Crowe 2013,1-25). The totality of these gains resulted in the average income of a Forks resident rose to become consistent with Washington’s state average (Crowe 2013,1-25). Similarly, Forks unemployment decreased from 8.9% in 2000 to 7% for 2005-2010; given the national recession in 2008, this local uptick resulted in the Forks unemployment rate to even dip below the national average (Crowe 2013,1-25). Plainly, these statistics exemplify the way in which the tourism resulting from the Forever Twilight Festival and its affiliates benefitted the Forks economy after the collapse of its logging industry.
To sum up the economic benefits of Twilight tourism (predominantly stemming from the Forever Twilight Festival) on the Forks economy, Marcia Bingham, former director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce asserted, “[The Forever Twilight Festival has] been the best thing for Forks since rain. And it will continue to be, too” (Banse 2015,1). After experiencing the loss of the lumber industry, Forks entered a crossroads for both its economy and sense of identity. Bringing zeal and opportunity, the Twilight franchise catalyzed a new era of hope and economic growth in Forks. Through her work, Stephanie Meyers envisioned a fictionalized version of Forks to intertwine with the fantastical romance between her hero and heroine. In doing so, she captivated the hearts and minds of readers from across the globe, leaving them with the desire to explore Twilight’s realm further. The Forever Twilight Festival capitalized on this widespread urge by creating a reliable platform for the celebration of the Twilight fandom. In doing so, this event also revived the spirit and economy of Forks. Over a decade after Meyers published the Twilight novels and adapted them into movies, FTF continues to create economic growth in Forks and helps solidify the legacy of the Twilight franchise. Now, having proven that FTF successfully stimulated the Forks economy, remains the question of its effectiveness in the long-term.
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