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How films and TV shows are inspiring travel

According to a new report, more and more people are ‘set-jetting’ or planning their travel itineraries inspired by films and shows set in exotic locations

A still from The White Lotus. (IMDB)
A still from The White Lotus. (IMDB)

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The new travel guides in town are the TV shows that people binge on. The exotic, glossy locations with stunning visuals and engaging storylines are inspiring people to explore new destinations, letting the main character energy fly quite literally.

A recent survey by American Express showed that 70% of Gen-Z and millennial travellers have been inspired to travel to a destination after seeing it on screen. The figures are almost as high as the social media effect, wherein 75% of all respondents said they had travelled to places after seeing people post about their trips.

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More than 60% of these younger travellers revealed that they chose a destination because of how it looked in photos and videos, according to the American Express survey. When the Netflix series, Emily in Paris was released in 2020, France quickly became a fantasy travel escape while the world was put under lockdown due to the pandemic. Now, three years later, there are guided trips based on the series’ filming locations as the ‘Emily effect’ led to tourists flocking to the city for a taste of the fantastical storyline.

Last December, as season two of the HBO series The White Lotus was released, Sicily came into the limelight with viewers swooning over the city as presented in the series. The immersive experience of watching a TV series can often extend the fiction beyond the story to the destinations—making travel to the filming locations feel more than tourism. It's like dipping your feet into the pool of imagined lives.

‘Set-jetting’ as a term might be new — American Express called it the travel trend of 2023 — but films, TV series, and books have inspired travel enthusiasts for many years. The 1953 film Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck painted a picture of Rome that continues to hold relevance to travellers and is still referred to as the guide to the city. Game of Thrones fans are holding onto the series through the locations and tourists are still making their way to India in search of a spiritual experience, promised by the likes of films such as Eat, Pray, Love or Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Limited. Close home, Switzerland is still seen through the lens of Shah Rukh Khan and his revered arm-spreading romance.

The popularisation of geospatial technologies has made it easier to scout the set filming locations and kind of gamify it. This trend was noted by Thierry Joliveau in a research paper published in The Cartographic Journal in 2009 wherein he commented on how geospatial technologies would transform the connection between imaginary and real places. “New technologies allow visitors practicing set-jetting or cultural tourism to collect extensive information about films or books related to these places. Geospatial technologies contribute to the development of an intermediary territory, a space between the real world and the fantasy world.”

However, while set-jetting as a trend has gained popularity, its problematic aspects of it have also been called out. Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh island made famous by the 2000 film The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio was closed indefinitely after about 5,000 tourists a day arrived at the location, causing extensive environmental damage, as reported by The Guardian in 2018.

More recently, Parisians have expressed their anger about Emily in Paris presenting an unrealistic and stereotypical picturisation of the city. “It was worse than cliché, it felt like it was Americans mocking French people,” Parisian Julie Seguin told NBC in July 2022. Another Parisian pointed out the lack of diversity in exploring the city. “Paris is not just about the Louvre, Saint Germain and the Tuileries gardens,” said Alexandra Milhat.

According to Expedia’s 2023 travel trends, some popular destinations for set-jetting include New Zealand (The Rings of Power), United Kingdom (The Crown and Bridgerton), New York (Inventing Anna and Sex and the City reboot sequel), and Hawaii (The White Lotus).

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