We all have to admit, we’ve all had a sneaky watch of at least one episode (if not, half a scene!) of the reality TV show phenomenon that is ITV2’s The Only Way is Essex (or TOWIE, for short). After first appearing on our screens back in 2010, the reality TV show has grown in popularity with 1.3 million viewers tuning in to the most recent fifth series.

But it’s the end-of-series TOWIE special in Marbella which the fans most eagerly await for with many of the twists and turns from the series being revealed (It really was Essex to Marbella, with a whole lot of Essex!). This special episode features the cast being filmed, much like their every-day filming style on their annual trip to the famous Spanish coastal resort. But what interests us is how your opinion of the famous Spanish holiday destination changes because of its association with the programme and its characters.

Marbella has, for many years, been popular with holiday-makers from all over the world and is a city particularly noted for the presence of celebrities and the rich. Perhaps this reputation of the place is the reason why the glamorous image-conscious Essex bunch head there to top up their tans and get noticed at one of the many celebrity social events. But what has been noted is that the image of Marbella has changed slightly because of the programmes popularity and very often, when the word ‘Marbella’ is mentioned it is automatically associated with the TOWIE image. This is especially true for the younger teenage viewers who are the biggest audience, easily picking up and spreading famous catchphrases from the show like “No carbs before Marbs” (an ‘Essex dieting rule’ meaning  ‘No carbohydrates before Marbella’).

But does this new Essex-girl/Essex-boy image reflect a positive or negative image of the resort? Really, it depends on your personal opinion of the programme. Viewers who love it and watch it religiously are more likely to have a better opinion of the place as they consider the holiday destination even more of a celebrity hot-spot. The popularity of Marbella as a holiday destination has increased, most likely because fans of the show head out to the resort in hope of seeing one of the Essex cast or just for the chance of living the same Essex holiday experience, filled with champagne, sky-scraper heels and a trolley-load of duty free cosmetics. Since the programme started, the Essex fashion style, teamed with gallons of fake-tan and OTT eyelashes has been adopted by many young viewers and it now seems, that jetting off to Marbella for their summer escape tops off their effort to imitate their Essex idols.

However…on the other hand, it could be argued that the association between Marbella and TOWIE could leave a slightly negative reflection upon the resort. Regular Marbella holiday-makers could argue that the show cheapens the resort and highlights the not-so-nice side of the city which attracts hoards of young, partying revellers. It has also been noticed that the public opinion of Benidorm, another popular Spanish resort, has also been influenced in this way due to its feature in ITV’S comedy sitcom, Benidorm, which takes the mickey out of the tackiness of the resort’s famous attractions. In fact, both Marbella and Benidorm offer many quieter, more relaxing spots which are popular for holiday-makers who prefer the same glamorous week of sun but with a more sophisticated atmosphere.

This season special is not only featured in The Only Way is Essex but also in other similar TV reality shows. MTV’s Geordie Shore sees the raucous gang head to Cancun, Mexico to live out what they are most famous for; hitting the clubbing scene hard! Cancun has always had a reputation for its crazy party scene with American’s considering it the most popular destination for Spring Break. As with the connection between Marbella and TOWIE, the reputation of Cancun could be susceptible to change as a result of its feature in Geordie Shore, either enticing fellow clubbers to the resort or putting off holiday-makers who would rather see themselves lying, peacefully on the beach all day and enjoying good quality local cuisine with just one or two glasses of wine rather than tequila’s sold by the bucket load! Cancun does, in fact, offer holidays for all preferences whether it’s the partying scene you’re looking for or a relaxing exotic getaway.

Channel 4’s Made in Chelsea features episodes in Dubai, South of Italy and Morocco and as the main focus of the programme is to show off their wealth and high-flying lifestyle, these holiday destination are portrayed with a very different image to Marbella and Cancun. Viewers and holiday-seekers alike are more likely to view these destinations as wealthy and sophisticated due to the association with the Chelsea-bred characters.

The influence of these TV reality programmes on society is massive and it does seem that even choosing our holiday destination is affected. It’s interesting to think exactly how much our holiday decisions are influenced, but ultimately it seems to depend on how much of a fan (or hater as the case may be!) of the programme we are.  Ultimately most people go away on holiday to escape their every-day life and it could be the case that, for some people, the association between the resort and TV programme degrades their holiday choice and makes it less exclusive.

We’d love to know your opinions on this – leave a comment below!