Still crazy after all these years (except this time they are loaded)

One woman's spiritual quest spawned a multimillion-pound film franchise and sent tourists flocking to find themselves in six-star retreats

It is one of life's ultimate ironies. A book about one woman's spiritual quest to find herself has spawned a multimillion-pound film franchise and sparked a fresh stampede for the hippie trail she followed on her path to enlightenment.

Travel agents have rushed to cash in on the publishing sensation that is Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love – which has sold more than seven million copies since it came out four years ago – with special packages designed for the book's acolytes. A new film, starring none other than the hippie-haired Julia Roberts, will only boost a phenomenon that has seen foreign visitors to Bali, the Indonesian island that featured in the travel memoir, soar to a record 2.2 million last year.

In the book, Gilbert embarks on a journey of self-discovery after a messy divorce. Her alliterative route, which took in Italy, India and Indonesia, has rekindled interest in the mystical hippie trail, as popularised by the likes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the 1960s. The one difference is that this time round, rather than hitchhike their way across the vast expanses of the Asian subcontinent, or slum it in 50p-a-night hostels, travellers are hopping on planes and flexing their credit cards to check in to six-star former palaces that have been repackaged as retreats for the materially devout.

Trailfinders, the holiday company that ran the first overland tour from Earls Court Road in London to Kathmandu in 1970s, said many of its original customers were retracing their old steps – but this time in comfort. "We're now catering for the 'old' travellers and their children, and they're choosing to 'find themselves' at our £500-a-night hotels. We've found that our clients from the 1970s have become really wealthy. Now they're more likely to stay in five- or six-star retreats to really get away from it all," said Nikki Davies, the company's marketing manager.

As well as films such as Eat Pray Love, which was the second most popular movie behind Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables on its opening weekend in the US, Ms Davies also credited the recession for reviving demand for hippie-themed holidays. "We had more people than ever before coming to us wanting to go away for a long time to think and recover," she said.

STA Travel, which specialises in holidays to Asia, reported a similar trend. Sales for its 20-day Roam India package, which invites travellers to "come face-to-face with spirituality far removed from the shallow complexity of the Western world" for a cool £749, have soared by 50 per cent in the past year. Ian Swain, STA's product director, said: "We've seen a rise in demand for meaningful, spiritual or wholesome holidays. Films shot in various locations inspire uplift in sales to the featured destination. Bali and India are both growth destinations, and no doubt the spectacular footage in Eat Pray Love will continue to spark demand for flights to and tours in both places."

The tour operator has seen sales of trips to India increase by nearly one-fifth in the past 12 months, and has sold 30 per cent more flights to Bali than this time last year. And that is before the film opens in the UK next month.

It isn't just Western firms that are in the money on the back of the new spiritual gold rush. The Balinese medicine man who featured in Gilbert's book, Ketut Liyer, is a hot ticket for foreign travellers. For the hordes of women who make the trek to his hut, the canny healer has quadrupled his prices to £16 for a palm reading and £287 for one of his so-called magic paintings. Four Seasons even offers an Eat Pray Love package in Bali, complete with a personal consultation with Mr Liyer.

Perhaps inevitably, the material consequences of Eat Pray Love's massive popularity have triggered a backlash. One self-confessed "Indiaphile", the Canadian-based writer Mariellen Ward, said: "The book and movie have none of the hallmarks of a true spiritual quest. I heard the cash register ch-chinging as I read it. Gilbert travelled to Italy, India and Bali on a large book advance – which means essentially that she was doing research – and she doesn't change, she doesn't transform, she just falls in love again."

Critics also worry that a surge in tourists will end up destroying the very places they visit. Not to mention that during a 15-day lightning tour of Rajasthan or Bali they will miss the point of Gilbert's adventure, which was to devote plenty of time to her journey. Then again, with a fat advance from her publisher, she could afford to linger.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea