With 70 per cent of Americans watching more TV in 2021 than they did in 2020, binge-watching has skyrocketed during the pandemic. Now, as borders reopen, restrictions ease and travel restarts, tour advisers are fielding an increasingly popular request: immersive, TV-themed itineraries that allow travellers to live out their favourite shows’ story lines.
In Britain, where all travel restrictions are now lifted, hotels in London have partnered with Netflix to offer Lady Whistledown-themed teas inspired by Bridgerton high society. In Yellowstone National Park, travellers are arriving in Wyoming not for a glimpse of Old Faithful, but for a chance to cosplay as John Dutton from the hit drama Yellowstone.
And in South Korea, where vaccinated travellers can now enter without quarantine, street food vendors on Jeju Island are anticipating a run on dalgona candy, the honeycomb toffees that played a central role in Squid Game.
“When you fall in love with a character, you can’t get it out of your mind,” said Antonina Pattiz, 30, a blogger who last year got hooked on Outlander, the steamy, time-traveling drama about Claire Beauchamp, a nurse transported 200 years back in history. Pattiz and her husband, William, binge-watched the Starz show together, and are now planning an Outlander-themed trip to Scotland in May to visit sites from the show, including Midhope Castle, which stands in as Lallybroch, the family home of another character, Jamie Fraser.
William Pattiz is part Scottish, Antonina Pattiz said, and their joint interest in the show kicked off a desire on his part to explore his roots. “You watch the show, and you really start to connect with the characters and you just want to know more,” she said.
The fifth season of Outlander was available in February 2020, and Starz’s 142 per cent increase in new subscribers early in the pandemic has been largely attributed to a jump in locked-down viewers discovering the show. During the ensuing two-year hiatus before Season 6 recently hit screens – a period of time known by fans as “Droughtlander” — Outlander-related attractions in Scotland, like Glencoe, which appears in the show’s opening credits and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, saw more than 1.7 million visitors. Outlander-related content on Visit Scotland’s website generated more than 350,000 page views, ahead of content pegged to the filming there of Harry Potter and James Bond movies.
The Pattizs, who live in New York City, will follow a 12-day self-driving sample itinerary provided by Visit Scotland, winding from Edinburgh to Fife to Glasgow as they visit castles and gardens where Claire fell in love and Jamie’s comrades died in battle. Private tour companies, including Nordic Visitor and Inverness Tours, have also unveiled customized tours.
Enduring Trend, New Intensity
Screen tourism, which encompasses not just pilgrimages to filming locations but also studio tours and visits to amusement parks like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, is an enduring trend. Tourists flocked to Salzburg in the 1960s after the release of The Sound of Music; in recent decades, locations like New Zealand saw a huge bump in visits from Lord of the Rings fans and bus tours in New York City have offered tourists a chance to go on location of Sex and the City and The Marvelous Ms. Maisel.
But in this pandemic moment, where travel has for months been synonymous with danger and tourists are navigating conflicting desires to safeguard their health while also making up for squandered time, screen tourism is taking on a new intensity, said Rachel Kazez, a Chicago-based mental health therapist. She has clients eager to travel – another major trend for 2022 is “going big” – but they are looking for ways to tamp down the anxiety that may accompany those supersized ambitions.
She said her patients increasingly are saying “I was cooped up for a year and I just want to go nuts. Let’s do whatever fantasy we’ve been thinking about”.
Sensing a new desire among guests to tap into the scripted universe, dozens of hotels over the past year have rolled out themed suites inspired by popular shows. Graduate Hotels has a Stranger Things-themed suite at its Bloomington, Indiana, location, with areas designed like the living room and basement of central characters like the Byers. A blinking alphabet of Christmas lights and Eleven’s favourite Eggo waffles are included. And in December, Club Wyndham teamed up with the Hallmark Channel to design three “Countdown to Christmas”-themed suites where guests could check in and binge Christmas films. They sold out in seven hours.
“It was the first time we’d done anything like this,” said Lara Richardson, chief marketing officer for Crown Media Family Networks, in an email. “One thing we hear over and over from viewers is that, as much they love our products, they want to step inside a ‘Countdown to Christmas’ movie.”
Vacation homes are also going immersive. For families, Airbnb partnered with BBC to list the Heeler House, a real-world incarnation of the animated home on the beloved animated series Bluey, and Vrbo has 10 rental homes inspired by Yes Day, the 2021 Netflix film about parents who remove “no” from their vocabulary. Celebrities are jumping in, too: Issa Rae, creator and star of HBO’s Insecure, offered an exclusive look at her neighbourhood in South Los Angeles in February with a special Airbnb listing, at a rock-bottom price of $56.
Tea on TV, Now in London (and Boston)
Bridgerton, Netflix’s British period drama about family, love and savage gossip, was streamed by 82 million households in 2021. (For comparison, the finale of Breaking Bad in 2013 had 10.3 million viewers; more recent streaming hits, including Tiger King and Maid, had fewer than 70 million).
Now that season two of Bridgerton has premiered, Beaverbrook Town House, a hotel built across two Georgian town houses in London’s Chelsea, will offer a Bridgerton experience that includes a day out in London and drinks in the British countryside; nearby at the Lanesborough, a Bridgerton-themed tea, cheekily dubbed “the social event of the season,” will kick off the same day. In Boston, the Fairmont Copley Plaza now has a “High Society Package” for fans with flowers and a private afternoon tea.
Contiki, the group travel company for 18- to 35-year-olds, had a Bridgerton-themed itinerary set for September 2021 but had to scrap it when the delta variant hit; they’ve now partnered with Amazon Prime on a Hawaiian Islands trip inspired by I Know What You Did Last Summer set for July.
Both Netflix and Amazon Prime have brand partnership teams that handle collaborations of this nature. “As we come out of this pandemic, the desire for more immersive experiences is really stronger than ever,” said Adam Armstrong, Contiki’s chief executive. “It’s about getting under the skin of destinations, creating those Instagrammable moments that re-create stuff from films and movies. It’s really a strong focus for us.”
The popularity of Bridgerton on Netflix was eclipsed by Squid Game, the high-stakes South Korean survival drama, and despite that show’s carnage, travellers are booking Squid Game vacations, too. Remote Lands, an Asia-focused travel agency, reported a 25 per cent increase in interest in South Korean travel and created a Seoul guide for fans and a customized itinerary.
Some travel advisers say that some clients don’t even want to explore the locations they’re traveling to. They just want to be there while they continue binge-watching.
Emily Lutz, a travel adviser in Los Angeles, said that more than 20 per cent of her total requests over the past few months have been for travel to Yellowstone National Park, a result of the popularity of Yellowstone, the western family drama starring Kevin Costner on the Paramount Network and other streaming services. And not all of her clients are interested in hiking.
“I had a client who wrote me and said, ‘All we want to do is rent a lodge in the mountains, sit in front of the fireplace, and watch episodes of Yellowstone – while we’re in Yellowstone,” she said.
By Debra Kamin © 2022 The New York Times
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.