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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... with this review
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
i100
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam