Popular television shows influence many aspects of culture ― from the clothes we wear to the way we decorate our homes. For TV viewers with wanderlust, the small screen also offers plenty of travel inspiration.
“I do think this golden age of television has affected the way we travel,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer. “Cities that were often overlooked are now destinations for fans of various hit shows. Previously, most TV shows were largely filmed in studios in California. Now, many shows are filmed on location in real places. Fans want to go to the locations that they saw on TV to see what they are like in real life.”
From the stately British estates of “Bridgerton” to the sweeping landscapes of “Yellowstone,” there’s no shortage of beautiful destinations on TV shows that viewers can visit. If a series is still running, visitors might also get a chance to see live sets and actors during their travels. But even if not, they can explore the location and its attractions beyond the TV spots ― once they get their photos at the most iconic pop culture sites.
“People travel thousands of miles to get those epic Instagram shots from ‘Lord of the Rings’ in New Zealand, ‘Carrie Bradshaw’s house’ in the West Village NYC, or ‘Jurassic Park’ in Kauai, Hawaii, among others,” said Ravi Roth, host of “The Gaycation Travel Show.”
American fans don’t necessarily have to travel too far or shell out much money to experience the magic of a hit show’s setting.
“There are literally hundreds of examples here in the U.S. where tourists have been driven to visit particular sites in response to shows on TV or the cinema,” said Alan Fyall, the Visit Orlando endowed chair of tourism management and associate dean of academic affairs at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management.
He pointed to the “Cheers” bar in Boston and the namesake settings of shows like “Fargo,” “Ozark” and “Portlandia” as just some of the many examples of TV-inspired tourism activity.
The Period Drama Effect
In 2022, it seems only fitting people would draw travel inspiration from shows after spending so much time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People had two years to sit at home and binge-watch new TV shows, so I do think they’re looking to explore those destinations themselves now that the world is opening up,” said Lael Kassis, vice president of market innovation and development for EF Go Ahead Tours. “And they’re choosing itineraries that embody the novelty they saw play out on their screen.”
Perhaps the clearest example is “Bridgerton,” the Regency-era drama on Netflix produced by Shonda Rhimes.
“If fans want a break from reality, it’s no wonder obsession with the storybook world of Bridgerton has grown since [the show became] a hit period drama during the pandemic,” said Naveen Dittakavi, CEO and co-founder of the flight deal website Next Vacay.
He noted that demand for immersive travel experiences inspired by the show has risen over the past year as Google searches for “Bridgerton experience” have increased by 9,900%.
In anticipation of the “Bridgerton” Season 2 premiere this week, many hotels in London and beyond are offering special experiences like themed teas. Pitchup.com, a U.K.-based campground booking platform, has put together a list of campgrounds on the estates of Great British castles that “boast special connections to noble history and evoke ‘Bridgerton’s’ romance, drama and Regency Era flourishes that are sweeping devoted fans off their feet.”
“In fact, I am going to Bath in the U.K. to literally see where they filmed ‘Bridgerton’ to get an iconic Instagram photo,” Roth said when asked if he believes that television shows are influencing people’s travels.
Other programs have boosted interest in U.K. travel, including “The Crown” and “Downton Abbey.” The number of visitors to Highclere Castle ― where the latter was filmed ― doubled after the show debuted.
“We have received numerous customized tour requests to build specialized tours focused on TV-inspired travel ― anything from tours inspired by ‘Outlander’ in the Scottish Highlands to in-depth ‘Harry Potter’ tours of the United Kingdom,” Kassis said.
The Rise of ‘Jetflix’
“Bridgerton” is not the only Netflix show making a mark on the travel industry. Casey Brogan, a consumer travel expert at Tripadvisor, noted that another Shonda Rhimes series ― “Inventing Anna” ― has drawn attention to a luxury destination that the characters visit midway through the series.
“Since the series premiered on February 11, there was a 500% increase in daily traffic to the La Mamounia hotel in Marrakech, Morocco on Tripadvisor and 50% incremental visits with regards to searches in the geographical region featured in the show,” Brogan said.
Although Netflix’s “Emily in Paris” hasn’t received much critical acclaim, the comedy-drama has successfully showcased the charm of the City of Light. Both seasons inspired countless articles breaking down the real-life places featured on the show, fueling a collective desire among viewers to book a flight to Charles de Gaulle Airport ASAP.
“While Paris has always been a hotspot destination for fashion lovers, romantics and travelers alike, it’s no secret that ‘Emily in Paris’ has burst onto our screens and boosted Paris’s appeal to young people around the world,” Dittakavi said. “The show sparked dreams of breakfast croissants, influencer jobs, designer clothes, and finding love with a backdrop of Paris’s most romantic locations.”
The connection between Netflix and travel inspo seems so obvious that the team at the luggage delivery company MyBaggage decided to create “Jetflix” ― an interactive quiz that “will decide your next vacation based on your latest streaming binge.”
The quiz assesses the Netflix shows and films users have watched, preferred genres, times of year they want to travel, and ages to offer personalized suggestions of locations to visit.
“After nearly two years of travel bans and restrictions across the globe, most people only had TV and film as a means of escapism,” said Paul Stewart, managing director of MyBaggage. “Television has allowed people access to lifestyles and worlds they would not have otherwise been a part of. This in turn inspires travel destinations and plans as people try to emulate the stars they see on screen ― from visiting iconic filming locations to choosing trips similar to ones they’ve seen those characters take.”
“Television has allowed people access to lifestyles and worlds they would not have otherwise been a part of. This in turn inspires travel destinations and plans as people try to emulate the stars they see on screen.”
A Lasting Impact
Of course, TV-inspired travel is not a brand-new phenomenon.
“‘Game of Thrones’ certainly took the world by storm and consequently the travel industry,” Stewart said. “Travel to Croatia and Northern Ireland saw a significant increase in demand as these were two of the largest filming locations. The after-effect of which has now led to official tours and guides based on the show, so tourists can become fully immersed in the fictional world.”
Recognizing this trend, TripAdvisor analyzed annual search activity data on the platform for “Game of Thrones” filming locations since 2012, a year after the series premiered.
“Most locations have experienced significant increases in traveler interest, as much as 2,270%, after appearing on the show,” Brogan said, adding that one of the most popular examples is Spain, “with 12 destinations serving as fictional backgrounds for Kings Landing, Dorne, Vaes Dothrak, and more.”
He noted that the Castle of Zafra in Guadalajara, Spain, saw a 488% year-over-year increase in interest from international travelers after appearing in the sixth season.
“Vik, Iceland, has also experienced a large increase in traffic ― 1,300% ― from 2012 to 2016,” Brogan added. “Iceland in general has experienced a notable increase of 531%, since the show’s premiere in 2011, driven mainly by Americans (684%) and Brits (379%) wanting to visit the fictional filming location of The Wall and Beyond.”
Beyond the “Game of Thrones” universe, other legacy shows have helped put tourist destinations on the map. Dengler pointed to “Breaking Bad” and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“And now, Better Call Saul continues to film in Albuquerque and show us both old and new locations,” he said. “The Visit Albuquerque website makes it easy for fans of the show to plan their own Breaking Bad location tour with a Google Map of various filming spots. Popular locations include Walter White’s house, the car wash, and Los Pollos Hermanos.”
Dengler also indicated increased interest in the Atlanta area among fans of “The Walking Dead,” where the show was filmed.
“Fans of the show flock to Georgia to see locations from the show, including Rick’s house, the hospital where Rick woke up in the first episode, and the town of Woodbury,” he said.
For many destinations, the interest persists long after the show ends. To this day, tourists take photos by the exterior of the “Friends” apartment in New York’s West Village and Tom’s Restaurant in the Upper West Side. The same goes for the “Full House” home in San Francisco and the Oahu beach where “Lost” was filmed.
The Dark Side Of TV Travel
As always, it’s important for travelers to be considerate of locals and the sites themselves when exploring a new place. Many popular series depict or are based on real events that occurred in history, and there’s a sensitive nature to them.
“TV-inspired travel can be a great way for economies of previously less popular destinations to grow,” Stewart said. “With TV travel based on historic events, however, it goes without saying that visitors should always be mindful and respectful of the weight of events that occurred there.”
He noted that the HBO miniseries “Chernobyl” boosted interest in visiting the site of the disaster and abandoned towns in the surrounding area. However, some tourists were criticized for striking irreverent poses and other disrespectful behavior during their tours.
The rise of true crime shows has also inevitably increased interest in “dark tourism” ― the term for travel to places associated with death and tragedy. Whenever a series covers the mysterious death of Canadian student Elisa Lam, more articles appear about the Los Angeles hotel where her body was found.
Even fictional shows with a dark edge seem to have impacted travel trends. The success of the survival drama “Squid Game” reportedly led to greater interest in South Korean destinations.
Beyond concerns about disrespect from visitors, some TV-related travel destinations have also faced issues with over-tourism. In 2019, local officials in the Croatian city of Dubrovnik (featured on “Game of Thrones”) announced plans to take drastic measures in response to surging tourist traffic.
As the tourism industry rebounds from the pandemic, it remains important to be mindful and respectful when you plan your travels. As always, consider the state of the pandemic at your destination and in your home community before booking a trip.