Commentary: Netflix hits are amping up cities’ appeal to tourists
Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and more – stories set in or revolving around certain locales have contributed to travel demand, says Expedia’s Lavinia Rajaram.
SINGAPORE: The verdant landscapes of New Zealand, the vibrant nightlife of Seoul, the reverent shrines of Kyoto. The vast catalogues of Netflix and Disney Plus are brimming with films and TV shows set all over the globe, with producers making conscious decisions to use the wonders of the earth, whether natural or manmade, as their backdrops of choice.
Thanks to streaming, we now have unlimited access to the world via a screen. “Set-jetting” refers to the phenomenon of getting inspired to visit a destination after watching a film or TV series.
According to Expedia research on travel trends for 2023, 76 per cent of Singapore travellers considered visiting locations appearing in streamed TV shows and films, with one in two following through with subsequent bookings. Where are these travellers going and why?
FROM SCREENS TO REALITY
It’s easy to argue that any Instagrammable location is a desirable holiday destination. After all, Singaporeans’ travel getaways are also influenced by picturesque landscapes (41 per cent) and beaches (40 per cent).
But stories set in or revolving around certain locales have contributed to demand for visiting them. Singaporean set-jetters are considering trips to Japan the most (40 per cent), followed by South Korea (38 per cent), Switzerland (29 per cent), New Zealand (28 per cent) and France (22 per cent).
Studio Ghibli films have consistently attracted tourists to Japan – not to mention the new Ghibli Park that opened in November in Nagoya. Korean breakthrough shows like Itaewon Class have fans flocking to Seoul, while Crash Landing on You set in Switzerland contributed to interest in the destination.
New Zealand is famous thanks to The Lord of the Rings films, while Netflix series Lupin and Emily in Paris have inspired some travellers to pack for Paris.
Visiting these destinations offers travellers a way to experience all that the location has to offer first-hand, instead of living just vicariously through characters on the silver screen.
TV AND CINEMA PUT CITIES IN A NEW LIGHT
While London, Tokyo and Seoul have always been popular tourist destinations, set-jetting travellers are now seeing these long-beloved destinations in a new light.
Most of the time, films and TV shows unlock new attractions, trends and food in familiar destinations. London’s King’s Cross station, for instance, is known by all Harry Potter fans as the location of the hidden Platform 9¾, where witches and wizards board the Hogwarts Express.
The platform is now immortalised in the real-life King’s Cross with a trolley that can be seen disappearing into the wall – which visitors can take photos with, then buy merchandise from a nearby souvenir shop.
Dalgona candy was made popular by Netflix TV series Squid Game, when it featured in a nerve-wracking game on the show. In Seoul, vendors of the confection saw sales increase by up to eight times after the show became a global phenomenon.
With movies and series uncovering new experiences on screen for fans, popular destinations continue to offer new places to see and things to do at each return.
DESTINATIONS CANNOT ALWAYS LIVE UP TO EXPECTATIONS
After being primed with scenes from films and shows, it’s common for viewers to form pre-existing notions about a country and its culture.
Take for example K-dramas, typically set in Korea, which have topped Netflix global lists regularly. K-dramas often portray romanticised fantasies, leading viewers to get emotionally invested and harbour a desire to relive what they see on screen.
The Hallyu effect on tourism in South Korea is real, with the number of foreign tourists increasing 7.9 per cent annually on average from 2010 to 2019 – with 2019 seeing a record high of 17.5 million tourists.
But fans may find that a real-life city is not the utopia they envisioned. For instance, there has been a rising trend of young women travelling to South Korea looking for love, inspired by Netflix K-dramas. In 2019, nearly 10 million women visited the country, as compared to just 6.7 million men.
Hopeless romantics may inevitably be let down that not all Korean men are the handsome and gentlemanly protagonists of their favourite TV shows.
While set-jetting might bring about disappointment, travellers must keep an open mind to new experiences. They might come away with broadened horizons and a newfound appreciation for the destination.
THE FUTURE OF SET-JETTING
Cities like shopping-haven Bangkok that have already been popular will continue to be so, even after set-jetters set their sights on new cities.
However, being featured on a series or movie is an opportunity for lesser-known cities to show off their colours to the world. Before the popular Peaky Blinders, the city of Birmingham was known only for having a university, yet now the titular gang of hooligans has become a source of identity and pride, with guides offering walking tours for fans.
Industry players are taking notice of what popular media can do for tourism. The Singapore Tourism Board signed a three-year memorandum of understanding with leading South Korean production house Studio Dragon to feature Singapore as a backdrop for their dramas.
Set-jetting is looking to be serious business in 2023. If travellers are willing to be open-minded and receptive to new cultures and experiences, they will return from their travels armed with unique and profound experiences, regardless of why they chose that particular destination in the first place.
Lavinia Rajaram is Asia Head of Public Relations and Director of Expedia Brands Global Enterprise Communications, Expedia Group.