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The Netflix effect – The Dig boosts local tourism in Suffolk

Ralph Fiennes in The Dig
Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig (Photo: Netflix)

Residents of Suffolk will have been delighted to see the county’s stunning landscape feature in The Dig, a 2021 film about the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo.

The area has long been known for its wealth of Anglo-Saxon artefacts, but it didn’t have global notoriety until it was represented on Netflix. The streaming platform had a hugely positive impact on the site and its surrounding area, and last year it witnessed its highest number of visitors since opening in 2002.  

How did The Dig inspire people to visit Suffolk?

The Dig focuses on the story of Basil Brown, an archaeologist hired to excavate the burial mounds of Sutton Hoo. Ralph Fiennes plays Brown, with Carey Mulligan starring as the lady who hired him, landowner Edith Pretty. Brown and his team uncover a ship from Anglo-Saxon times, along with a treasure trove of other relics from the era. The film was met with critical acclaim and nominated for five BAFTAs.

Historians have been drawn to Suffolk to see the sites of discoveries like these first-hand for decades, but the popularity of this picture has seen people of all interests flocking to the county. The site recorded its highest monthly visiting figures in August last year, with 33,781 tourists stopping by. Many of these people may have been intrigued about the ancient history, while others simply enjoy visiting famous film sets. Certain viewers may have seen Suffolk’s marvellous scenery for the first time in the Netflix film and were encouraged to visit because of that.

Netflix has a habit of sparking cultural phenomena

One of the reasons why Netflix has been able to become the most dominant entertainment service in the world has been through creating content that leads to crazes in society. Making a Murderer was one of the first hugely popular and unavoidable hits, and there have been many more since the 2015 true crime release. This has often been referred to as the Netflix effect, when an unprecedented sensation comes from nowhere and causes ripples throughout popular culture. Just like how The Dig inspired people to visit Suffolk, other films and television series have influenced viewers in different ways.

One of the most recent examples of this is Squid Game, an intense and twisted South Korean series that stormed its way up the viewing charts in the final months of 2021. The series was so well-loved that many people started learning Korean, with Duolingo seeing a 76 per cent rise in users interested in the language.

Tiger King had a similar impact in 2020 and propelled the infamous big cat owner in the series to worldwide fame. Now, there’s a vast amount of related merchandise, including the Joe Exotic slot at Duelz Casino, which is known to have one of the best free spins no deposit bonuses online. Other Netflix series that has had a seismic effect on popular culture include Stranger Things, which sparked an increase in 1980s nostalgia, and Money Heist, which inspired people to learn Spanish and watch other films and series from the country.

Suffolk tourism companies were unprepared for this Netflix effect

Despite recording record numbers at Sutton Hoo in the months after the release of Simon Stone’s film, tourism companies in the area were not ready to capitalise and had not anticipated the Netflix effect. If they had, they could have set up more souvenir shops, stalls, and tours to cater for the extra people.

This serves as a lesson to others that the power of hits on the streaming service shouldn’t be underestimated, and businesses need to be ready to take advantage of them. This is especially true for the tourist industry in settings that show up on the screen. After the impact of The Dig, other locations that appear in Netflix shows should brace themselves for an influx of visitors in the aftermath of their release.

The effect of The Dig has been beneficial for Suffolk tourism, but it’s a shame that companies in the area didn’t exploit this extra attention enough when they had the chance. Other filming locations can learn from this mistake and prepare for additional visitors if their sites are used on the streaming platform.

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