Photo by Max Böttinger from Unsplash

HBO’s ‘The White Lotus’ wraps up filming in Thailand. You may want to book a flight now 

Previous filming locations of the series have seen a surge in tourist arrivals so you it’s not an entirely bad idea to book your Thai beach vacation ASAP.

Since it dropped on HBO on July 11, 2021, The White Lotus has become a pop culture phenomenon. It has received critical acclaim, bagged awards, and made stars (or even bigger names) out of its cast members, thanks to its wildly entertaining and addicting blend of dark comedy and drama, and its mostly dysfunctional yet unforgettable characters. 

Title card for the first season. Photo from Wikimedia

Being set in picturesque locations, specifically in Maui, Hawaii in the first season and Taormina in Sicily for the second installment, has also ignited the wanderlust among its legions of fans. 

The rise of TV tourism

TV tourism is not a new thing. Tourists flocked to Salzburg, Austria after The Sound of Music was released, according to the New York Times. Then there’s New Zealand, which everyone probably associates with the Lord of the Rings, and which sees Tolkien fans from around the world going on pilgrimages to Middle Earth.

Game of Thrones inspired fans to book vacations to its locations, contributing about USD$195 million in tourism revenue for Croatia between 2013 and 2018, according to a study from the University of Zadar. Despite Paris needing no additional publicity, Emily in Paris now has its own official tour that comes with a pastry lesson and a masterclass on, erm, flirting the Parisian way. 

The steady rise of TV tourism can be traced all the way back to The Sound of Music. releaded in 1965, it continues to inspire fans to book vacations to Salzburg, Austria. Photo from Alamy

The White Lotus is no different. In 2022, the San Domenico Palace Taormina: A Four Seasons Hotel found itself fully booked before it even reopened, and web searches for nearby Italian towns increased by 50 percent before the second season premiered, as per an article on Skift.

“We often find demand stack statistics peak even where the Bachelor is being hosted or where White Lotus is being filmed next,” said Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton at the Skift Global Forum in September.

There’s now an Emily in Paris-themed tour in Paris which includes a masterclass in, uhm, flirting. Photo from Netflix

TV tourism may not be a fresh concept, but with the help of social media and tourism boards collaborating with networks and production companies, the concept has become far more influential than ever. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and HBO, for instance, have partnered to film and promote the Emmy-winning anthology series.

And if you’re a fan of The White Lotus, knowing that the upcoming third season is set in nearby Thailand, just a four-hour flight away, might make you want to book a ticket for a White Lotus-themed island getaway at this very moment.

The White Lotus arrives in Thailand

Filming started in February at several locations in Bangkok, Phuket, and Koh Samui and has recently wrapped up. Thai officials haven’t shared which hotel will be featured in the third season, but the last two seasons were set at Four Seasons properties, with the first season featuring Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea.

With some tourists booking flights and vacations before the second season even aired, Thailand sure is gearing up for what is quite possibly an avalanche of tourists. 

Hotel bookings in and online searches about Taormina, Italy skyrocketed even before The White Lotus season 2 aired. Photo by Jonathan Skule from Unsplash

“You still can’t get into the Four Seasons in Taormina—it’s completely chock-a-block,” says Misty Belles, spokesperson for Virtuoso, a global network of some 20,000 luxury advisers, as quoted in an article on Bloomberg. “We’re waiting for Thailand to go crazy because everyone knows as soon as White Lotus comes out, you won’t be able to get in,” she added. 

Virtuoso’s bookings to Thailand this year have increased by 38 percent from 2023, and most of that growth is coming from American travelers. 

Meanwhile, for Black Tomato, a luxury travel agency that specializes in “set-jetting” holidays designed around popular films and series, that phenomenon has already arrived: It reported a 44 percent spike in sales to Thailand in the first four months of this year compared with the same period last year. Prices have also crept up by about 15 percent from last year, it said.

Phi Phi island in Phuket. Photo by DK Photography from Unsplash

The company noted that guests are specifically requesting to book at the properties that were first reported as being featured in season three: Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui, where an ocean-view villa can cost about US$1,700 a night, and the Anantara Mai Khao, where pool villas will set you back about US$400. The Four Seasons and Anantara hotel chains, meanwhile, have both declined to comment on their involvement in the production, according to Bloomberg.

Availability at both properties has started to tighten, says Black Tomato co-founder Tom Marchant, as quoted in the same Bloomberg report. Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui has seen a 39 percent increase in bookings from Virtuoso clients.

Marchant says that after The White Lotus season two aired, its sales to Sicily tripled in 2023. The company offers 10-day tours of the Italian island that start at US$10,000 per person. Demand for visits to Taormina, Noto, and Palermo have also surged since the Sicilian cities were featured in the show, he adds. The company is waiting for more details on season three to consider crafting a Thailand itinerary.

Wat Arun in Bangkok. Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan from Unsplash.

Leading Hotels of the World, a global collection of independent, high-end hotels, has also observed a spike in interest. The brand says it saw customer searches for its six properties in Thailand jump 25 percent the month after it was confirmed that the show was being shot there even if none of those hotels were connected to the production.

Chompu Marusachot, director of the TAT’s New York office, says consumer interest has picked up particularly in and around Koh Samui, Phuket, and Bangkok, based on feedback from partner hotels and the increased media coverage on the third season. “Appearing in The White Lotus season three allows us to reach a truly global audience,” she says.

Thailand’s tourism ministry knows the power of TV tourism that it announced last year it would increase a cash rebate for foreign film productions to 20 percent from the start of 2024. That incentive helped draw HBO’s production crew, which could save up to US$4.1 million—the maximum rebate amount—thanks to the policy.

What we know so far

Although HBO and TAT have remained tight-lipped about the exact shooting locations, sources on Koh Samui with knowledge of the production shared that some scenes on the island were shot at the remote Taling Ngam Beach.

Taling Ngam Beach in Koh Samui is rumored to be one of the filming locations.
Photo by Raimond Klavins from Unsplash

Scenes were also shot at Fisherman’s Village, a popular tourist spot known for its bustling night market. Social media posts featuring the show’s actors have also provided hints about filming locations in Bangkok and Phuket.

Speaking of actors, the cast of season 3 will see the return of one former White Lotus employee. Natasha Rothwell will be reprising her role as Belinda Lindsey, the spa manager at the Hawaiian resort who dreamed of starting her own business and was left with a wad of cash by Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya McQuoid. 

Natasha Rothwell will be reprising her role as Belinda Lindsey in the franchise’s third season. Photo from CNN

Joining her are franchise newcomers Carrie Coon and Scott Glenn, Walton Goggins, Leslie Bibb, Michelle Monaghan, Parker Posey, Blackpink member Lisa (credited as Lalisa Manobal), Dom Hetrakul, Jason Isaacs, Tayme Thapthimthong, Sarah Catherine Hook, Sam Nivola, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Aimee Lou Wood, Nicholas Duvernay, Francesca Corney, Arnas Fedaravičius, Christian Friedel, Morgana O’Reilly, Lek Patravadi, and Shalini Peiris. HBO recasted Miloš Biković, following public criticism in the Ukraine, and replaced him with Julian Kostov.

Carrie Coon, Walton Goggins, Michelle Monaghan, and Parker Posey are some of the confirmed cast members of The White Lotus season 3

Production for season 3 was delayed due to the 2023 writers and actors’ strikes, pushing the premiere of The White Lotus season 3 to 2025.

The new lifestyle.