On Monday, an estimated 5.22 million viewers tuned in to ABC to watch an episode of “The Bachelorette” filmed in Richmond.
If the attraction-laden footage looked like an advertisement for the city, that’s because it sort of was. Virginia Tourism Corp. paid $536,130.38 for the show to film here.
Virginia Tourism made a financial contribution of $300,000 to “The Bachelorette” to film in Virginia and $236,130.38 to help defray costs of rooms, meals, production space, internet and parking at the Graduate Hotel and Quirk Hotel, where the cast and staff stayed during filming, according to documents obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch through a Freedom of Information Act request.
In return, according to the contract, Virginia Tourism received one verbal mention of the “Virginia is for Lovers” tourism slogan, one shot of a LOVE sign in the episode, and a promotional link to the “Virginia is for Lovers” website on the ABC site, among other “exposures.”
“‘The Bachelorette’ has a massive audience of almost 6 million viewers per week,” said Caroline Logan, director of communications with Virginia Tourism. “The show is always trending on social media. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to reach potential new travelers. And to reach millions, instead of thousands.”
“Due to our budget restrictions, we’re not able to advertise in our key markets — like New York,” she added. “This was a way that we could reach them.”
Warner Bros., which produces the reality dating show along with Next Entertainment, would not respond to Times-Dispatch requests for comment. But earlier this year Nicole Woods, a producer on the sister show “The Bachelor,” told Town & Country magazine that the show relies “heavily on the support of these partnerships” with tourism boards, destinations and hotels.
In January, Nevada’s Lake Tahoe served as a location for “The Bachelor.” The area also came to a financial and trade agreement to make the filming happen, although Lake Tahoe didn’t disclose the amount or terms of the agreement.
“Our partners involved in the episode saw a significant spike in website traffic, newsletter subscriptions, social media followers and wedding inquiries,” said Carol Chaplin, president of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.
Shortly after the episode aired, Chaplin said, a fan booked a trip to follow in the Bachelor’s footsteps. The trip was covered by local TV stations.
Getting a show like “The Bachelorette” to film in Richmond is part of a new strategy for Virginia Tourism, which has an overall budget of $26.8 million for 2018, the bulk of which comes from the state general fund.
“Travel is overly saturated. We have to find new ways to stay competitive,” Logan said. “We’re looking for new ways to bring attention to the Virginia is for Lovers brand. We were really excited to think outside the box for this opportunity.”
Typically, the Virginia Film Office handles bringing in television shows and movies like “Homeland,” “Turn” and “Lincoln.” The Virginia Film Office serves as a workforce development initiative through tax incentives to get movie projects and TV series to film in the state, said Andy Edmunds, the office’s director.
The Virginia Film Office offered “Homeland” $700,000 in a grant and up to $6.5 million in tax credits to film in Virginia. “Homeland” filmed in Virginia for several months, using local crews and services. The economic impact of having “Homeland” film in Virginia is expected to be more than $75 million.
But having a long-running TV series film in Virginia is much different from having one episode of a reality dating show film locally for one week.
Virginia Tourism took the reins on “The Bachelorette” because “this was a branding opportunity,” Logan said. “It was a way to raise awareness of Virginia as a travel destination.”
The Virginia is for Lovers tagline is all over the episode of “The Bachelorette,” which filmed in the Richmond area in April. The episode highlighted the area’s history.
Bachelorette Becca Kufrin took a date to an “Unhappy Hour” at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. Later, a group date was led by Abraham Lincoln and George Washington re-enactors to a “Beccalection 2018” debate on the steps of the state Capitol, with a guest spot from Gov. Ralph Northam.
Zhiela Ashtiana and Bethany Silva, local fans who were at the taping at the Carpenter Theatre in April, thought the show focused too much on Richmond’s history.
“I know that Richmond has a lot of history and culture, but I felt like the show made Richmond seem a little boring,” Silva said. “It felt too heavy on the history. Those aren’t the kinds of things I like to do here.”
Logan said that Virginia Tourism offered “The Bachelorette” plenty of suggestions for where and what to film in town, but ultimately, it was up to the show to choose where to aim the camera.
The crew also filmed brief spots at Sugar Shack Donuts, The Veil Brewing Co., Old City Hall, RVA Trolley, Main Street Station, Dover Hall and the Bolling Haxall House.
Kufrin and host Chris Harrison stayed at Quirk Hotel; the suitors stayed at the Graduate Richmond, both of which received prominent airtime.
Sherry Abedi, general manager at Quirk Hotel, said the hotel didn’t pay a fee to appear on the show.
“The property was a perfect match for the show. We’re very much a leisure destination and a wedding hotel. We offer a romance package. It was a nice fit, obviously,” Abedi said. “Given the audience and the viewership of the show, it’s the most exposure we’ve ever had.”
Virginia Tourism uses media-monitoring software, and Logan said that through mentions of the show, the state agency already received $47 million in publicity value with “The Bachelorette.”
“I think it was a very smart, strategic investment for us,” Logan said. “We’re very pleased with the results.”
Virginia Tourism has already added a “‘Bachelorette’ itinerary or romance-inspired itinerary” — as permitted by Article 2j of the contract — to its website, where visitors can check out the locations where Kufrin and her suitors stopped on the show. It’s touted under “Follow in Becca’s footsteps to find love in Virginia.”