It is no exaggeration to say the scene that takes place exactly an hour into 1962’s Dr No is one of the most pivotal in cinematic history. There is Sean Connery, lying in the shade of a palm tree, at what is Laughing Waters Beach, midway along the north coast of Jamaica. And here comes Ursula Andress, out of the waves and onto the sand in her white bikini.
The next three minutes forge a template. With an arched eyebrow and a line in casual but insistent conversation, they set up the conundrum of James Bond: half Lancelot for damsels in distress, half rabidly libidinous Lothario. And they establish the concept of the “Bond girl” so completely that Honey Ryder’s smouldering gaze and sea-salted hair have echoed across the film series ever since.
When Halle Berry wanders out of the water in an orange two-piece – in what is supposed to be Havana, but is really Cadiz – in 2002’s Die Another Day, she is treading in Andress’s shoeless footprints. When Daniel Craig emerges near-identically from the shallows – wearing a pair of blue trunks in the Bahamas – in his first outing in the main role, 2006’s Casino Royale, he is paying the same homage.
But beyond this, those 180 seconds of early-1960s flirtation posit the idea of Ian Fleming’s super-spy as a traveller who finds himself in exotic places and fabulous locations as a matter of course. It is an image that has taken hold in the six subsequent decades – Wednesday (October 5) marks the 60th anniversary of the release of Dr No, the first instalment of what has become an irrepressible silver-screen institution.
In that time, and across the course of what are now 25 official movies, 007 has travelled extensively. And not just to Jamaica (though he has been a regular visitor). He has delved into Latin America (Argentina and Guatemala both feature in 1979’s Moonraker, even as Rio steals the show), and into the Far East (Thailand has rarely looked as gorgeous on camera as it does in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun).
He has dashed across the United States (1971’s Diamonds Are Forever skulks in the casinos of Las Vegas; 1973’s Live and Let Die sweats through its preposterous plot amid the heat of New Orleans and the Deep South; 1985’s A View to a Kill makes a final-act virtue of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge). Indeed, he has been around the world, sometimes in the space of the same film; 1983’s Octopussy calls upon both Cold War-era Berlin and the palaces of Rajasthan.
True, his enemies have switched creeds and countries according to the tides of geopolitics. And the joviality or grittiness of his character has oscillated depending on the actor drinking the vodka martini and the parallel ticket sales of rival espionage movie franchises (hello to you, Mr Bourne). But Bond has always taken the viewer with him on his journeys in a way that sparks aspiration and wanderlust: Brazil’s Sugarloaf Mountain as the backdrop to another epic fight; Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay in sunset silhouette.
In a piece headlined “Licensed to Look: James Bond and the heroism of consumption” (published in 2003 as part of a compendium of 007-related essays, The James Bond Phenomenon: A Critical Reader), Michael Denning, a cultural historian at Yale University, argues that Bond is “the ideal tourist”, with the money, passport and purpose to travel without limitations. “Fleming’s adventures,” Denning writes, “are really tales of leisure; tales where leisure is not a packaged, commodified holiday, but an adventure, a meaningful time.”
In other words, not only is Bond a sort of prototype travel influencer, he is also a cinematic representation of the way the international holiday industry has developed across the past 60 years – people seeking out ever more distant horizons and greater luxury.
If you visit the real-life setting of that first encounter with Honey Ryder, you will notice a difference. It is not that Laughing Waters Beach is no longer special. It is that the area is much busier than it was 60 years ago. A mile to the east, Dunn’s River Falls – another Dr No location, where a waterfall pours onto the beach – is now a major attraction. You may need to queue to climb it, against the flow, if a cruise ship is docked in nearby Ocho Rios. A further 15 miles east at Oracabessa, GoldenEye (goldeneye.com) is no longer the simple home Fleming had built for himself as a writing retreat in 1946, but an elegant 48-suite resort.
Of course, it would be an illogical leap to pin all of this change on to one fictional secret agent. Jamaica has grown exponentially as a destination in the past six decades. The 345,000 tourists it welcomed in 1966, four years after Dr No, had become more than one million by 1987 and the four million mark was breached for the first time in 2017.
But the reasons behind these increases are as obvious as with any Caribbean island or beach hotspot: the ease of air travel, the construction of high-end hotels, the metamorphosis of the long-haul holiday from a niche commodity for the rich into a common annual purchase. Only a fraction of the sun-seekers who will fly to Jamaica as the European and American winter hits will do so because a Scotsman and a Swiss actress once recited dialogue on its seafront.
But equally, “the Bond effect” can be significant. It is estimated that a new 007 film is worth a 20 per cent sales boost for any product – expensive wrist watches, bijou spirit brands – showcased on the screen. Speaking last year ahead of the release of No Time to Die, Adam VanderVeen, the marketing director of Triumph Motorcycles America, said that every one of the US allocation of the 250 Tiger 900 Bond Edition motorbikes the brand created for the most recent movie was snapped up within 45 seconds of being made available. “Bond just pumps energy into everything,” he told The New York Times.
The same applies to destinations, often persuasively. Back in December 2018, Matera – a small, photogenic hilltop city in the southerly Italian region of Basilicata – was having a moment of existential crisis, fearful that its imminent crowning as a European Capital of Culture for 2019 would see it drown in crowds too big for its little streets to hold. “We don’t want tourists, we don’t want to be occupied by tourists,” said its mayor, Raffaelo de Ruggieri, as the new year approached. Fast-forward nine months, and the same official was talking of “an incredible opportunity”, while Matera was anticipating a €12m boost to its tourism revenues, as the opening scenes of No Time to Die were crafted in those same little streets.
“Matera is over the moon about Bond,” enthused Ivan Moliterni of local film-development board Fondazione Zetema. “People said that historical architecture and bureaucracy would rule out a James Bond car chase, but this proves we can do anything.”
Covid saw No Time to Die put on hold for 18 months, and will have diminished its impact as inspiration for travel. When the movie was finally released in September 2021, Europe was still tied in a web of travel restrictions. Matera was off the immediate menu.
It was a different story with Spectre, which premiered in 2015, and had a discernible effect on one of its locations. So compelling is its opening set-piece – Craig striding across rooftops in Mexico City as a giant Day of the Dead procession unfurls beneath him – that life has been forced to imitate art. No such parade existed, but so numerous were the expressions of interest that came in the film’s wake that the authorities were obliged to invent one. The move to commercialise a celebration that is based on private family remembrance will not have pleased everyone.
“Day of the Dead is something that is celebrated in Mexico City, though in a more serious way,” Enrique de la Madrid Cordero, Mexico’s then-secretary of tourism, said ahead of the inaugural parade in 2016. “It is a deeply rooted tradition. What we have decided to do is a festival.” Nonetheless, it has proved a considerable success: 300,000 people attended the 2021 edition last October.
Bond-fuelled popularity can have its down-sides. Prior to The Man with the Golden Gun, the islets of Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay were unknown to mainstream tourists. The deployment of two of them – Khao Phing Kan and Ko Ta Pu – as the villainous base Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) may be the most seductive use of scenery in the Bond canon, but it hasn’t helped the area’s ecosystem. In 2017, what is now Ao Phang Nga National Park banned visitors from carrying plastic bags, in an effort to reduce pollution and litter. As of 1998, boats are not allowed to approach Ko Ta Pu – a distinctive limestone karst that juts narrowly out of the water – to help prevent erosion and potential collapse.
Other places have embraced their fame. Though it sits just three miles north of the Swiss end of Lake Maggiore, the Verzasca Dam was scarcely a travel staple until it announced Pierce Brosnan’s arrival as Bond (and stuntman Wayne Michaels’s skill) via the bungee-jump that begins 1995’s GoldenEye. Opportunity knocked, a bungee centre was opened, and 10,000 daredevils took the plunge in the first decade of operation (you can still do this via trekking.ch).
Likewise, Austrian ski resort Soelden does not disguise its Bond connection. Its mountaintop Ice Q restaurant (iceq.at) – part of the five-star Das Central hotel (central-soelden.com) – revels in being a “spectacular location for the James Bond Spectre movie” (in which it plays a clinic). The hotel has doubled down, building 007 Elements (007elements.soelden.com), a permanent Bond museum, on the same peak.
The Bond spotlight does not even need to be direct to capture a place in its beam. Moreover, Bond does not need to be alive. No Time to Die courted controversy by appearing to kill off not just Craig’s reign in the role, but its decade-straddling hero – leaving him stranded on a remote island as missiles race in to destroy another hidden den of evil. In the script, this is an uninhabited outcrop in the Sea of Japan.
In reality, it is Kalsoy, a sliver of the Faroe Islands, where enterprising locals have now erected a tombstone in 007’s “memory” (near the village of Trollanes). Fans can take an escorted day trip (guidetofaroeislands.fo) to explore this latest, strangest collision of Bond fiction and fact. A collision that will be all the stranger if, by the time they do so, Bond has been reborn – in a new film, with a new actor, in a new destination.
5 brilliant Bond-related holidays
From Istanbul with love
The idea of Bond as a sophisticated tourist is given early substance by his journey on the Orient Express in 1963’s From Russia with Love. Sadly, this fabled trans-continental rail connection, which went as far east as Istanbul, has disappeared from the standard timetable. The closest thing is the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, a gilded approximation run by luxury travel operator Belmond (0845 077 2222; belmond.com), whose classic two-day London-Venice service costs from £3,785 per person (flights not included). For those who want a longer affair, the company is also planning a six-day journey between Istanbul and Paris next September, from £17,500 per person (flights extra).
(Dr) No comparison in Jamaica
For some travellers, the only Bond-related holiday that matters is one which traces 007 – and his creator – to the origins of the story. Goldeneye is a much bigger complex now than when it served as Ian Fleming’s desk with a view, but the author’s home is still there, among a series of villas and cabins that enjoy the same Jamaican setting. A seven-night stay starts at £2,249 per person, with flights, via Caribtours (020 7751 0660; caribtours.co.uk).
The spy who loved Egypt
Africa has featured only sporadically in Bond’s wanderings, but it does so with dust and glamour in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Roger Moore’s wise-cracking version of 007 drifts across Egypt, taking in the pyramids – before stalking metal-toothed henchman Jaws through the giant pillars of the Karnak temple complex at Luxor. This is a journey easily re-traced, and no less alive with history, 45 years later. Steppes Travel (01285 402 158; steppestravel.com) offers an 11-day Highlights of Egypt holiday which charts the country’s ancient era in depth – ticking off the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, Abu Simbel and a Nile cruise, as well as Giza and Karnak. From £6,025 per person (flights extra).
Sky-falling for a Japanese endgame
Bond has been no stranger to Japan – Sean Connery’s 007 finds fun and games aplenty amid the neon gleam of downtown Tokyo in 1967’s You Only Live Twice. But it is the Craig incarnation of the super-spy in 2012’s Skyfall who glimpses one of the country’s most remarkable outposts: Hashima Island, some eight miles off south-west Nagasaki. Whether you view its crumbling buildings as a desolate lair (for Javier Bardem’s MI6 turncoat) or the abandoned off-shore mine it is in real life, the eerie effect is much the same. You can see it as part of the 13-night Kyushu Adventure sold by Inside Japan (0117 244 3380; insidejapantours.com) – from £2,620 per person (flights extra).
Solace among the salt flats
Craig’s second tour of duty, 2008’s Quantum Of Solace, is generally ranked as one of the weaker movies, hampered by an underwhelming villain and an overcomplicated plot. But there is a simple magnificence to its closing moments when Mathieu Amalric’s insipid bad guy is dumped in the Atacama desert and left to die. Journey Latin America (020 3131 7447; journeylatinamerica.com) offers the Chilean side of this great expanse of salt and sand – minus any element of danger, but with first-rate accommodation and intriguing day trips – in its 12-day Active Chile break. From £5,899 per person, including flights.