Brand Insights in 3 Sentences: Set-jetting is the latest travel trend to emerge in 2023, where people travel to destinations they’ve seen in their favorite television shows or films and even plan their entire itinerary around it. Movie-inspired tourism can be extremely positive for local economies, so tourism boards should try to highlight these locations in their marketing and curate special experiences for visitors. They should also utilize the opportunity to educate tourists on history and local culture to build reputation and encourage word-of-mouth recommendations.
HBO’s White Lotus has become a smashing success, thanks to its clever dark comedy, love-to-hate characters, and of course, its scenic, sun-soaked locations. The show’s two seasons are set in Hawaii and Sicily, with the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea and the San Domenico Palace serving as the fictional hotels, respectively.
Since the show’s premiere in July 2021, both hotels have seen a 57% and 1522% spike in search interest, respectively, and fans worldwide have flocked to stay in their resorts.
This trend of traveling to destinations that were locations of movies or television shows is called “set-jetting”, a term first coined by New York Post journalist Gretchen Kelly in 2008. It’s not a new concept, but set-jetting has seen a jump in recent years and is predicted to become one of the top travel trends of 2023. During the pandemic lockdowns, people looked to films, television and social media to escape and fulfil their wanderlust, so once borders began opening, these travellers rushed to see the backdrops of their favorite shows in real life.
Even without set-jetters, popular cities like London, Tokyo and New York City already receive throngs of tourists. However, an analysis of almost 2000 Google Maps Reviews of popular tourist destinations in these cities show that people do reference movies or television shows in them, which means that they have helped to boost traffic and have likely played a part in making them as popular as they are.
However, our AI tool, Sphere, found that the top jet-setting location on TikTok was not one of the major cities, but a small city called Covington in the U.S. state of Georgia. Otherwise known in The Vampire Diaries Universe as the fictional town of Mystic Falls. Shows like Dukes of Hazard, In The Heat of the Night and The Walking Dead have also been set in the city, but fans have flocked to visit the town mainly because of TVD.
More well-known cities Los Angeles and London were mentioned as well, and other popular movie franchises and TV shows like Marvel, Harry Potter and Stranger Things were also tagged, but Covington and The Vampire Diaries were the most popular by far.
The first episode of The Vampire Diaries was released in September 2009 and Google Trends reveals that searches for the city have grown since its debut. Their location tags on Instagram and TikTok are also filled with TVD-related content from fans flocking to visit their favorite fictional town.
The city has fully embraced their new identity as Mystic Falls and the show’s fans, and have curated special tours on their website, or the Vampire Stalkers Mystic Falls Tours, which proudly declares that Covington has been named #6 on the list of the Best Vampire Destinations in the World by the Travel Channel. There are even multiple locations in town that have renamed their establishments after places in the show, left signs up from the set, and sell memorabilia at their locations.
It’s not at all uncommon for cities or countries to leverage films and TV shows as a way to boost their tourist economy. The tourist board, VisitBritain has created movie maps that chart the filming locations of popular shows like Harry Potter, Bridgerton and Peaky Blinders, with other agencies even offering a James Bond-style speed boat tour of London. Singapore’s official destination website features videos of local actors from Crazy Rich Asians speaking about cultural experiences in their country.
However, the biggest example of how movies can be beneficial to a country’s tourism industry is the impact of Lord of the Rings on New Zealand, which is now named ‘Tolkein tourism’. It’s been almost two decades since the first film was released, but peoples’ desire to see Middle Earth hasn’t faded. “Tourist numbers shot up 40% in the five years after the first LOTR” and tourism has since become “the nation’s biggest export industry, bringing in NZ$39.1 billion annually and employing one in seven New Zealanders.” Rebecca Ingram, general manager New Zealand and Government Relations at Tourism New Zealand stated in an interview in 2019 that nearly “one in five visitors still cite The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a reason they chose to visit New Zealand.”
Today, The Lord of the Rings filming locations, including Hobbiton, still garners millions of searches and has still seen a 34% increase in the past 5 years.
The benefits of film production on tourism is significant. They give opportunities for a place to show off its cultural and natural assets, as well as to build their reputation. It also means more jobs and business opportunities for the local economy both during and after production. Recognizing this, many places have since put in place film incentives to attract scouts and filmmakers. The state of Georgia, for instance, had been working to lure Hollywood to them since 2008 by offering the largest tax incentives of any other state in the country. Hundreds of films have since been shot there, with its famous peach logo during closing credits being instantly recognizable. It’s also been dubbed the “Hollywood of the South”, even overtaking the traditional home of film production, California.
There are instances however, where too many visitors can be a bad thing. Overtourism to places popularized by films or TV shows can lead to negative effects like pollution, overconsumption of resources, damage to natural and historical sites and displacement of locals. Maya Beach, made famous from the 2000 film The Beach, serves as a lesson to people for traveling more responsibly. At the height of its popularity. It was reported that “there were more than 5000 people visiting a day”, which led to the beach being littered with discarded trash, and severe damage done to coastal plants and coral. Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biologist from Thailand’s Kasetsart University, stated that “at the time the bay was closed, there was only 8% of coral coverage left, compared to up to 70% some 30 years ago.” By June 2018, Thai authorities made the decision to close the beach to allow it to recover from the ecological destruction and has only since reopened in 2022.
The trend doesn’t just stop with movies and television though. Other forms of visual entertainment, like video games, anime, and TikTok videos are inspiring people to travel to their locations as well.
As media and entertainment becomes more diverse, this set-jetting trend will continue to expand and affect tourism all across the globe. As the trend is truly based on living out a fantasy, tourism boards should think of ways to curate experiences for these travelers, like allowing them to recreate scenes in costumes or having food offerings from their favorite shows.
Most locations also hold some sort of cultural or ecological significance, aside from being sets, that visitors are always keen to learn more about. Tourism boards should provide some knowledge on the history of the site or what it means to the local community within the experiences. Having those extra insights is what travelers look for when visiting a place, which they then share with people back home and hopefully entices them to pay their own visits.
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