The White Lotus effect: HBO and Netflix are deciding where you’ll take your next vacation

Call it The White Lotus effect.

Vacationers are flocking to the locations of their favourite TV shows and movies in rapidly growing numbers. This goes beyond tourists scoping out the Friends apartment in the West Village or and builds on the way Game of Thrones fans would wind their way around Dubrovnik’s streets.

In a new report from American Express, 70 per cent of Gen Z and Millennials travellers say they have been inspired to travel to a destination after seeing it on screen or booked a destination after some binge watching. It’s almost as high as the impact of social media: 75 per cent of all respondents say they’d travelled to places after seeing friends or others post about their trips.

Aubrey Plaza as Harper Spiller in season two of The White Lotus.Credit:HBO/Binge

“Travellers are being increasingly inspired by pop culture,” says Audrey Hendley, president of American Express travel.

Some of the rise in popularity of set-jetting can be traced to pandemic habits. People who had to eat at home or couldn’t travel binged hours of television, like the smash-hit first seasons of HBO’s The White Lotus or Netflix’s Emily in Paris. From their couch, dreaming ahead to when travel restrictions would be lifted, with an unused leisure budget, viewers started planning a trip where they could be the main character. Now that borders are back open, set-jetting is booming into one of 2023’s biggest travel trends.

There’s no better example of this than White Lotus. The series was a critical and commercial success for HBO, and a dreamy inspiration for travellers. The comedy-drama chronicled the awkward interactions between wealthy guests and hotel staff at a luxury resort that ends with a person dead.

‘The show has also shone a spotlight on Taormina as an incredible destination.’

Season one was filmed at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea and season two featured the sun-drenched, Aperol spritz-laden seaside idyll of the San Domenico Palace in Taormina, Italy, another Four Seasons property. Viewers who binged on the show have been booking out the real properties where the show was filmed, looking for la dolce vita of their own, in a boost for the hotels featured.

“The popular set-jetting trend has markedly increased interest in Maui and Taormina, with both properties experiencing a significant jump in website visits and availability checks, ultimately driving more bookings,” says Marc Speichert, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

Web traffic to the Four Seasons Maui site increased 425 per cent year-over-year during season one alone, according to Four Seasons. And all those binge-watchers tuning into HBO on Sunday nights has had a big effect on bookings in Sicily.

Four Seasons Maui, where White Lotus season one was filmed.Credit:

“For the upcoming season in Taormina, the property is sold out over a number of periods and the show has also shone a spotlight on Taormina as an incredible destination,” says Speichert. Prices at the property start at around €1000 a night ($1625).

Rebecca Masri, founder of luxury travel company Little Emperors, says clients — Americans in particular — keep asking about that Four Seasons in Sicily. Demand for Sicily is booming due to the show, she says, but also because it’s cheaper than some areas like the Amalfi coast.

“It’s not just Four Seasons that has benefitted,” she points out, saying the show has been a boon to other luxury hotels in the region. “Rocco Forte and Belmond have hotels in Sicily and they’ve all picked up demand on the back of the series, even though it wasn’t shot there.”

In the UK, the phenomenon is maturing from a pilgrimage to the busy Kings Cross train station, where Harry Potter fans would visit Platform 9 ¾, where the fictional boy wizard boarded his train to Hogwarts. In the early 2010s, hordes of visitors stopped in to see Hampshire’s Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed. Now, Netflix’s Bridgerton is bringing visitors to spend days in Bath.

Bridgerton has brought travellers to the historic town of Bath, England.Credit:

“We’re seeing a younger audience come to Bath because of the show,” says Patricia Yates, CEO of VisitBritain. “It’s great to see that our history and heritage are being displayed in this way where millennials and Gen Z travellers are coming in greater numbers.” Filming locations such as Castle Howard have seen a surge in younger visitors since the show’s debut.

The travel business for American Express recovered to pre-pandemic levels at the end of the fourth quarter last year, Hendley says.

Want to get ahead of the next set-jet crowds? Keep an eye out for the announcement of the next White Lotus filming location. After drawing crowds to Hawaii and Sicily, season three will reportedly be set in Asia.


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