Is Thailand ready for ‘The White Lotus effect’ and all it brings?

Films and TV shows are increasingly becoming travel inspiration.

Films and TV shows are increasingly becoming travel inspiration. Photo: TND/Getty/HBO/Binge

Slumping in front of the TV after a stressful day’s work, it’s hard not to wish you were frolicking on a beach or exploring an exotic city like the actors on screen.

That’s about as far as many of us take it, but increasing numbers of travellers are making that dream a reality.

Although the term ‘set-jetting’ is relatively new, the trend of visiting filming locations of movies or TV shows is not.

David Beirman, adjunct fellow in tourism at the University of Technology Sydney, says the phenomenon dates back as far as the 1950s.

Films such as the Audrey Hepburn-led Roman Holiday (1953) drove up interest in Rome, while Sophia Loren’s Boy on a Dolphin (1957) inspired holidays on the Greek island of Hydra. Both continue to have an influence on tourism today.

‘‘Movies and tourism are like peas in a pod,’’ says Beirman. He experienced it firsthand surrounding the release of Mamma Mia in 2008, while working in his previous role at the Greece and Mediterranean Travel Centre.

‘‘The movie was an absolute smash hit, and the destinations featured in it – particularly the island of Skopelos, which most people had never heard of – became a really popular destination.

‘‘Our company at the time, and many of our competitors, were running Mamma Mia tours – and still do.’’

Accelerating the set-jetting trend

It may have begun as a niche source of inspiration, but set-jetting has clearly hit the mainstream.

Last year, American Express reported 64 per cent of travellers said they made travel plans or were inspired to visit a specific country or destination after it was featured on a TV show, news source or a film.

Finder travel expert Angus Kidman says the trend has been spurred on by the rise of streaming platforms.

‘‘Before, a show might be popular overseas, but you could wait six months for it to come out in Australia,’’ he says.

‘‘Suddenly, everyone in the world is seeing the same releases at the same time, and the interest starts immediately.’’

What makes the trend more visible today than it was back in the 1950s is the fact our holiday snaps are now shared with a global audience on social media.

Kidman calls it the ‘‘show-off element’’.

‘‘You know that if you go and say, ‘I stood in front of this thing from The White Lotus’, you can hashtag your image, and other people are going to notice.’’

Boasting about film or TV-inspired travel exploits online keeps the cycle going, promoting the destination and the production afresh.

The White Lotus effect

The first season of The White Lotus generated a 425 per cent year-on-year web traffic increase for the Hawaii filming location, Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea.

Likewise, season two resulted in a surge of interest in Sicily, particularly the small town of Taormina, with hotel rooms booked solid for months on end.

The White Lotus

The White Lotus equals murder, mystery and fantastic views. Photo: HBO/Binge

All things considered, it’s unsurprising Thailand fought hard to be the setting for the third season of The White Lotus, along with other productions, by introducing a 30 per cent rebate, which could amount to millions of dollars in savings for production companies.

The efforts paid off. What’s more, The White Lotus 3 is set to explore a wider range of locations around Thailand than we’ve seen previously in the series.

The majority of the first two seasons were shot at Four Seasons properties in Hawaii and Sicily.

Although Bloomberg reports that season three will follow that pattern, filming at Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui, viewers will also be treated to episodes shot at Phuket’s Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas, and a yet-to-be-revealed Bangkok hotel.

The production is forecast to provide a boost to tourism in Thailand, which is still recovering from the pandemic, injecting millions into the economy, and creating job opportunities.

Longer term, the ‘White Lotus effect’ could be a game changer in terms of shining a global spotlight on Thailand’s diverse and breathtaking beauty.


Netflix series Wednesday was filmed at Cantacuzino Castle, Romania. Photo: Instagram/@steppingthroughfilm

For anyone keen to visit somewhere they have seen on screen, one of the biggest decisions, according to Kidman, is whether to go independently or as part of an organised tour.

Both options have pros and cons, but he said urban destinations were more likely to suit the solo traveller, while more remote locations could be best suited for tour groups.

‘‘The organised tour might get you into locations that you couldn’t get to otherwise; you might get access to that private resort or that castle or that thing that you wouldn’t be able to manage on your own,’’ Kidman says.

‘‘On the other hand, if they’re just taking you around a city … you can probably work that out yourself.’’

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