Travel TV has a long history of inspiring consumers to get off their couches and go on a trip.
The hosts of these shows, like the late Anthony Bourdain, are often among the biggest names in the industry and have launched thousands of vacations.
Within the industry, their partnerships run deep, benefiting everyone from travel consultants to suppliers to on-site hospitality workers. Some have even developed their own travel products.
The current line-up of travel show hosts includes those who work directly with travel providers, including Samantha Brown, family travel expert Colleen Kelly and up-and-comer Danella Richard, a former cruise marketing director.
We spoke to these hosts and their producers about these partnerships, what makes their shows unique and why public television is a great place to travel.
Richard had a unique opportunity to host a travel show. She graduated from Southern University with a degree in television in 1995, and spent her early college years at a production company in Dallas. But after sending teams and talent around the world, but staying home herself, she decided she wanted to travel.
With the rise of the Internet, she was hired by an online travel company and worked in Europe for several years. She then began a multi-year career in hotels and cruise lines, culminating in a position as Director of Trade Marketing and Engagement at Holland America Line.
Then a pandemic broke out. She let her team go before she lost her position.
A friend who had just launched a streaming network asked her if she wanted to return to television, and Journey with Danella Richard was born. The show airs on various ABC, CBS, NBC and CW affiliates, as well as on the streaming platforms GFNTV and GoTraveler.
“I created a travel show to help bring travel back,” Richard said. “We started during the pandemic. We started the show at a time when no one was on cruise ships, when planes were grounded, when hotel occupancy was at its worst. And all this began to inspire people to travel the world again.”
She works closely with cruise lines, suppliers and destination management companies to present destinations, with a particular focus on cultural aspects. Her sponsors are industry colleagues with whom she enjoys working in her new position.
One of her key sponsors is Magical Vacation Planner, a travel agency with offices in Orlando and Mitchell, Indiana. Often asked about her itineraries, Richard talks to them about curating experiences for her TV audience.
She also often communicates with other advisors.
“I have a lot of travel advisors who watch my show as an entertaining educational tool to recommend to their clients what to do and where to stay in a destination,” she said. “They also ask me to provide a printed itinerary for their customers.”
Family tourist club
Kelly, host of PBS’s “Family Travel with Colleen Kelly,” recently launched the Colleen Kelly Travel Club. It offers discounts on travel with Travel + Leisure.
Colleen Kelly recently launched the Colleen Kelly Travel Club. Source: Colin Kelly
About 12 years ago, Kelly worked as a correspondent for a local show on NBC. With two young daughters, she looked for content about family travel, but there wasn’t much out there. She decided to create her own show. PBS loved her performance.
“When I told them I wanted to be a national travel host, I had so many people think I was crazy,” she said. “It just went out of my mind.”
Today, her show is broadcast over 94% of the country and is in its eighth season.
PBS hosts rely on sponsors to fund their shows. This year Kelly is collaborating with the Austrian Tourist Board. Past sponsors include State Farm, CityPass and a law firm.
Her audience has long expressed a desire to follow her itineraries, but she has not been able to offer travel services. Now its partnership with Travel + Leisure allows just that. She is working on the development of more detailed routes.
Kelly gets a small percentage of what travelers spend. She plans to embark on a media tour this fall to promote the places she loves, as well as the club.
From the Travel Channel to PBS
Brown, who has become a mainstay of travel television in recent decades, moved to PBS seven years ago from the Travel Channel, whose programming today mostly focuses on the paranormal. The move completely upended the way her show was financed, said her husband, Kevin O’Leary, who is an executive producer for Samantha Brown Media.
The Travel Channel funded her show through advertising sales. But at PBS, Brown and O’Leary are responsible for finding their own partners, who get a certain amount of air time before and after the show. (Under PBS, they also own the show, while the Travel Channel owned Brown’s work.)
Samantha Brown, a mainstay of travel television in recent decades, came to PBS seven years ago from the Travel Channel. Source: Samantha Brown
“If you had told me 10 years ago that going public would be the biggest entrepreneurial thing I’d ever do, I wouldn’t have believed you,” O’Leary said.
But thanks to several key industry partnerships, Samantha Brown’s Places to Love is possible. AmaWaterways came first, O’Leary said. They participated even before the release of a single episode and remain sponsors. Brown has organized several cruises with AmaWaterways and also filmed content for the brand.
She also has a partnership with AAA Travel, speaking with its agents and organizing some community events together, and she has a partnership with Rocky Mountaineer, with whom Brown has also organized trips. Fort Myers, Florida also sponsored the show.
When viewers are looking for travel tips, O’Leary often refers them to AAA Travel. He also regularly updates the website with details highlighting the products and people featured in the show.
“It costs a lot of money to make these shows, and there are ways to make them cheaper,” O’Leary said. “We choose to make them better, not cheaper. The only way we can do this is through the funding that these sponsors give us. This is critical for us. You know, there are fewer tourist shows for a reason. They are difficult to make. They are expensive. And the value that these sponsors bring to us is certainly appreciated and we will do everything we can to support them.”