At a recent gathering of friends in one of those north London small plates restaurants that masquerades as a pub, a couple mentioned they were jetting off to Modena for the weekend.
They didn’t need to give any further details – the whole crowd knew exactly what this Italian break would entail. Obviously they were going to have lunch at Osteria Francescana, the three Michelin-starred restaurant from Massimo Bottura. It wasn’t a particularly foodie group but we all had an intimate knowledge of the restaurant due to its starring role in not one but two hit Netflix shows.
In the first-ever episode of the culinary documentary Chef’s Table, viewers are treated to a series of beautiful shots of Bottura’s respun Italian classics and the maestro declares how opening a wheel of parmesan leaves him overcome with emotion. If you missed that, how about Aziz Ansari’s navel-gazing comedy-drama Master of None, which dedicates an entire episode to a perfect lunch at the restaurant? Such is the reach of Netflix, we could discuss Osteria Francescana and its must-have ‘dropped’ lemon tart with a fluency highly unlikely before the rise of the streaming service.
Despite its recent dip in subscribers, there’s no denying how central Netflix remains in many people’s lives and, increasingly, the programmes we watch are inspiring our travel plans – no doubt amplified by two years penned in with only our television remotes for company.
The platform’s own research backs this up. Recent data showed that 70 per cent of programmes watched by a typical Netflix user were filmed in a foreign setting, and that the locations of chosen programmes were frequently their favourite holiday spots. More specifically, it found that subscribers are 2.4 times more likely to say the setting of a programme or film they watched is top of their travel wishlist. A separate survey from holiday giant Booking.com found that 25 per cent of travellers were planning trips to destinations featured in a television programme they had enjoyed.
Never one to miss a marketing opportunity, Netflix has even made the leap into IRL tourism, launching free guided walking tours over the summer – in London, Paris and Madrid – highlighting key locations from its shows and films. Cue a flock of millennials living out their Emily in Paris fantasies.
Television tourism wasn’t created by the streaming giant, of course. To this day, HBO’s Game of Thrones and Dubrovnik remain entwined in the minds of many, and back in the Nineties, Sex and the City bus tours to sickly sweet Manhattan cupcake shops were booked out months in advance – such is the desire to channel our inner Carrie Bradshaw.
But there’s now an increased intensity to this way of travelling, in part due to the way Netflix has changed our media consumption. The rise of binge-watching has seen shows become so culturally encompassing, even if only for a short period of time, that they may be more likely to drive holiday decisions, particularly in this ultra-connected world where your screen-inspired travel fantasies can become a reality with a couple of clicks as soon the credits start rolling.
After the release of Inventing Anna (based on the true story of the scam artist who infiltrated New York’s high society), Marrakech’s grande dame hotel La Mamounia, which featured in a memorable episode, saw its website traffic soar. (This is despite being the subject of an uncomfortable storyline in which said con artist fails to pay the hefty bill for one of its plush suites.)
Other hotels have actively leaned into the fervour surrounding certain Netflix shows. Hip hotel group Graduate created a Stranger Things suite at its Indiana outpost (the show’s home state), designed to resemble Joyce Byers’ (Winona Ryder) shabby Eighties living room. Expect wonky Christmas lights, a pull-out sofa bed and Eleven’s (Millie Bobby Brown’s character) favourite Eggo Waffles for snacks.
Not to be outdone, a boutique hotel in Kentucky offered up a mid-century styled room inspired by the Queen’s Gambit, complete with a giant chess set glued on to the ceiling. And in Bath there is no shortage of Bridgerton-inspired afternoon teas and tours.
Tapping into the trend early, luxury tour operator Black Tomato has been running tailored “set-jetting” itineraries since 2015. “We’ve all been watching a favourite show and regularly left craving just one more episode,” says the company’s head of product, Carolyn Addison. “With this in mind, we created our collection of TV-inspired itineraries and experiences where clients can embark on immersive trips to the places where these series were filmed.
“As well as providing an inspiring backdrop to popular programmes, these destinations also evoke memories of notable scenes and characters and give a sense of familiarity, which is comforting. We’ve actually seen a huge uptick in requests for Paris this year, which we put down to the halo effect of Emily in Paris.”
She adds: “Set-jetting isn’t a fleeting trend, it’s one that’s here to stay and that we see only continuing to pick up pace. After all, for many these trips are a much longed for pilgrimage and a really joyful way to celebrate being able to travel more freely again.”
It seems television and holidays pair well given that they both deal in a fantasy of sorts – something that is particularly appealing at a time of financial uncertainty and global tension. And if we already feel we have inhabited locations on screen, we might feel more comfortable in venturing to more far-flung destinations.
The sheer amount and breadth of content served to us has also meant more unusual destinations are having their moment in the spotlight. Breaking Bad’s hometown of Albuquerque continues to capitalise on the success of the show with guided RV tours and, perhaps distastefully, a shop selling sweets designed to look like crystal meth.
Somewhat bizarrely given its dark nature, Squid Game, a sort of deadly take on It’s a Knockout and the most watched-show in Netflix’s history, has seen demand for South Korea holidays skyrocket. Cities across the country have scrambled to put together Squid Game-style tours and offer activities featured in the show such as traditional honeycomb making. Meanwhile, a replica of the giant murderous children’s doll was set up in Seoul last summer.
Food in focus
Naturally, the platform’s proliferation of food-focused travel programmes has arguably had the most impact on holiday plans in recent years, particularly now we all know our burrata from our bao buns. The late Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown (originally shown on CNN, but seen by most UK viewers on Netflix) still dictates holiday itineraries and a painstaking map has just been released which details everywhere he went during the globe-trotting show’s 12 seasons – something I would have greatly appreciated when running around Bangkok’s Chinatown in search of the crispy pork pancakes I’d seen him tuck into during the Thailand episode.
Bourdain’s programmes were thoughtful and carefully considered, but inevitably made stars of the few places featured. The banh mi spot in Hanoi he popped into now has a sign out front advertising its effective anointing by the chef – arguably the more chic version of a Tripadvisor top-rated medal.
The problem comes when tourists will only entertain visiting the exact location featured on screen. A travel writer who lived in Madrid for many years told me she sighs every time the same churros spot is featured on a Netflix show such as the anodyne foodie travelogue Somebody Feed Phil – arguing a far superior place sits undiscovered just around the corner.
Foodie hotspot San Sebastian, which has seen its star power shoot up after being the subject of multiple television programmes with cameras regularly cramming into its tiny pintxo bars and Michelin-starred restaurants, is a good study in what happens when the producers come calling. Telegraph Travel destination expert and author of the cookbook Basque Country, Marti Buckley, acknowledges that it can be a mixed blessing.
“I think there are two kinds of foodie travel shows – those that truly respect and pay homage to a place and those that recycle the same old content,” Buckley says. “Despite the growth in tourism, locals still love to show off their city’s food, and a show like Anthony Bourdain’s, for example, is a source of great pride.
“There is the inevitable tension as prices rise and more hotels are built, but restaurant and bar owners here are quite tight knit and work together behind the scenes to encourage continued quality and to maintain tradition. Everyone is doing relatively well, which takes the edge of competition off.”
Its deeply embedded identity means a city like San Sebastian may be able to handle the increased attention, but as overtourism creeps in as a concern once again, other destinations may start to think twice before letting the cameras in.