Why the set-jetting travel trend is set to dominate 2024

From the hills of Sicily to swish Parisian neighbourhoods, travellers are flocking to destinations inspired by movies and TV series

Travellers are visiting destinations as seen on screen, such as the French capital thanks to Emily in Paris. Getty Images
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In the upper part of New Zealand’s North Island, the landscape is breathtakingly beautiful. Near Matamata, lush green, undulating land, mostly a series of fells, is speckled with sheep and punctuated by occasional farmhouses. That’s until the road suddenly ends inside the land of the Hobbits, those adorable creatures from The Lord of the Rings series. That’s when breathtaking becomes surreal.

The Hobbiton Movie Set is a bit like entering the fantasy land of a Hobbit village. It comprises Hobbit houses built into the hillsides with bright, colourful, round doors under wooden arches fronted by miniature gardens and mossy picket fences. There’s also a lake with the mill and water wheel by its side, the Green Dragon Inn, the oak tree at Bag End … if there ever was a Middle Earth this is it.

As I stand and stare, mesmerised, I hear a deep sigh from a couple of fellow travellers I have befriended on the tour. “Feels like a dream come true, this is so worth it,” says Nora, a media consultant from Australia.

Her friend Sophie responds, “After this, it’s on to Misty Mountains, Fanghorn Forest and Ithilien Camp.” The references are all fictional places from the movie series that are located around Queenstown, about 1,400-kilometres south.

Around the world, now more than ever, travellers are flocking to locations popularised by movies and television series, in a trend called set-jetting that began surging in 2023 and is set to dominate 2024 as well.

Think Sicily (The White Lotus), Paris (Emily in Paris), Romania (Wednesday), Croatia (Game of Thrones), Norway (Mission Impossible), Ireland (Banshees of Insherin), England (The Crown, Bridgerton) and so on.

Global travel technology company Expedia had predicted that in 2023 travellers would turn to the small and big screens for inspiration. More than half those surveyed say they’ve booked a trip to a destination after seeing it on a TV show or movie.

Expedia says the trend will continue into next year, after a new survey of 20,000 travellers found more than half say they’ve researched or booked a trip to a destination after watching a series or movie. One in four say TV shows and films are more influential on their travel plans than ever before, and more so than Instagram, TikTok and podcasts.

Based on this, the company expects destinations such as Thailand (The White Lotus season three), Malta (Gladiator 2), the Scottish Highlands (Outlander), South Korea (Squid Game season two) and Greece (Argylle) to trend in 2024.

The fad is particularly prevalent in India, finds travel search aggregator Skyscanner in its 2024 forecast. Its survey revealed that a staggering 94 per cent of travellers from the subcontinent have been motivated to go on a trip to a destination seen on the big or small screen, but only 62 per cent went on to book.

Skyscanner said Emily in Paris was by far the most popular inspiration, with more than 42 per cent of Indian travellers aspiring to see the French capital through the eyes of protagonist Emily Cooper. And the company said it saw a 23 per cent month-on-month increase in searches after the launch of season three last December.

Interestingly, set-jetting in the Indian market started several years ago, but was mostly directed towards Switzerland, popularised almost single-handedly by Bollywood director-producer Yash Chopra, who is known for filming lavish songs against the backdrop of the Swiss Alps. But it picked up pace over the last few years as Bollywood movies explored other foreign locales.

“This phenomenon used to work very well in the mass segment and influence came a lot from family dramas and TV series,” says Loveleen Multani Arun of Bengaluru-based Panache World, a boutique travel solutions company. “Many destinations such as Malaysia, Australia, Turkey and New Zealand benefitted a lot from this.”

But Arun says the recent spike is a drive by luxury travellers seeking destinations inspired by Hollywood and streaming platforms. “Emily in Paris gave rise to a whole new wave of people visiting or revisiting Paris. The latest craze is [also dominated by] travelling to locales of the hugely successful show The White Lotus.”

Four Seasons Taormina, a five-star Sicilian property that featured in The White Lotus, has a price tag of 2,000 euros ($2,188) per night but is already reporting sold out dates for all of next summer, she adds.

Service providers are trying to cash in with engaging products that tie into the trend. Earlier this year immersive luxury travel experience provider Black Tomato, from London, launched The Assignment, a journey to signature destinations inspired by James Bond movies. The itinerary takes travellers through five countries – the UK, France, Austria, Italy and Monaco – with stays in hotels such as Corinthia in London and Metropole in Monte Carlo. And just to make the experience as authentic as possible, guests also train with a stunt coordinator.

Most recently, the UAE’s Dharma, a tour company that designs experiential excursions, became Netflix’s official partner for Emily in Paris-themed trips. These promise to take travellers “to the heart of the Parisian experience”, led by fashion influencers, allowing guests to “channel Emily’s courageous spirit, push boundaries, provoke discovery and champion learning of the best kind”.

All this reminds me of the Hobbit experience and the overarching feeling of having walked into a movie, quite literally. It’s incredibly surreal, as fiction and reality seem to segue seamlessly. It’s also immensely joyful and I can understand why the trend has caught on the way it has.

Updated: December 20, 2023, 7:03 AM