Bon Voyage

In a cluttered landscape, travel shows need to be so much more than guidebooks to stand out.                                     

We all want to be taken places and see locations we could only dream of visiting. Thanks to travel series, we can do that from the comfort and safety of the living room. But these days, viewers don’t just want to be shown the sites; they want an immersive experience with an engaging host who takes them along on a journey of discovery.

“The traditional bread-and-butter travel shows are not something buyers would look at today,” says Jon Kramer, the chairman and CEO of Rive Gauche Television. “They look at things that are out of the box. A show doesn’t have to be a pure travel series—it just has to take you places. It could be about eating, but it’s a travel show if you get to visit places.”

From aspirational to down-the-middle to adventure to food and character-led series, the travel genre now has something for everyone.

Angela Neillis, the director of non-scripted content at FremantleMedia International (FMI), finds that “there is still a demand for inspirational and educational travel shows. To appeal to audiences, series need to be specialized, provide something new and take viewers to places that they normally wouldn’t see or have the chance to experience.”

This “underlines the need for either a fresh approach to travel or the need to combine other sub-genres,” according to Natalie Lawley, the managing director of Escapade Media.

Indeed, with traditional sightseeing out, a new breed of series has emerged, combining elements of the travel genre with another component that grabs audiences’ attention. “Keeping travel at the forefront but bringing in another element like food, lifestyle, history or survival, works well,” says Kate Llewellyn-Jones, the managing director of TCB Media Rights. “Anything that embraces the reasons people travel or is relevant to the experiences people want to have when they travel” can make a show successful internationally.

With this shift in the travel genre, Maartje Horchner, the executive VP of content at all3media International, has noticed a surge in demand for hybrid programs. “The standard way of showing what a location is like does not travel very well internationally.”

“Pushing the boundaries with travel is the most notable evolution” in the space, says Escapade’s Lawley. “That ‘money can’t buy experience’ can be seen in a number of successful series recently. Travel is a big part of Status: Vacant.” Shot in 4K, the series takes the viewer around the world to investigate abandoned destinations that are often off the beaten path.

Similarly, Ultimate Homes and Buying Hawaii, two pillars of Rive Gauche’s offering, provide audiences with aspirational real estate experiences. “Both series take viewers to exotic places,” Kramer explains. “Ultimate Homes appeals to a viewer who wants to see what the very rich have attained in terms of housing, while Buying Hawaii is for the normal person who wants to see what it’s like to buy a home in Hawaii.”

Mike Lolato, the senior VP of international distribution at GRB Entertainment, believes there is demand for hybrid shows because the combination of travel with other elements has the potential to bring in a younger audience as compared to typical travel series. “Networks need to satisfy as many viewers as possible,” he says. “What better way to do that than by doing a travel-adventure program instead of doing just a pure travel show or just an adventure show? You’re going to bring in different people, you’re going to attract more viewers, and that’s the name of the game.”

One of GRB’s titles that has succeeded in luring elusive millennials is Chug, in which host Zane Lamprey explores drinking cultures around the world. “Historically, travel shows have been a little bit conservative and slower paced,” Lolato says. “Then there was an explosion of new hosts [who are] different, edgier people. Chug brings in a younger audience because 87-year-olds probably aren’t too interested in the great beers or a new vodka company from Malaysia, but young travelers who want to have a good time are going to gravitate toward these newer travel shows.”

“It’s the combination of genres that makes [the hybrid shows] attractive,” all3media’s Horchner explains. “It’s a different way of telling a story, which is quite hard in the travel genre. Trying to find something that lures people to stay tuned when the ads go on, to find a story arc, that’s where the combination of genres helps. It creates a story arc [that wouldn’t exist in] a straightforward travel show.”

Even something as simple as introducing comedy into a series can help drive viewership. Travel Man: 48 Hours In…, hosted by Richard Ayoade, combines travel and comedy to keep viewers interested, with guests like Rebel Wilson lending their talents. The show looks at “places that normal tourists would go to through such a funny, different angle,” Horchner says, which makes the show attractive internationally. She also points to The Embassy, which creates a story arc by following people who work in the Australian Embassy in Bangkok and incorporates travel as the cast ventures around the city.

Rive Gauche is capitalizing on the hybrid trend with shows such as Buying the Bayou. The series “combines a number of genres,” Kramer says. “You get to travel to a very different place. You get to see houses that are built in the Bayou, which are much different from houses you’d normally see; and the people who live in the Bayou are unique, so you get to meet homeowners and real estate agents that are characters.”

According to FMI’s Neillis, “travel shows need to showcase destinations from a different angle and utilize new, exciting and unpredictable talent.” In Dara & Ed’s Road to Mandalay (working title), for example, “the two presenters take viewers through the bright lights of Malaysia, the jungles of Myanmar and unravel the region’s rich history and its link with the U.K. and Europe,” says Neillis. “Dara and Ed bring a lot of warmth and humor to the series and this makes them the ideal travel companions for audiences.”

Food and travel has become a particularly lucrative hybrid. “Food is such a key part of most cultures; it brings people together, and it’s so diverse, so it has a very natural and very appealing place in travel shows,” explains Holly Hodges, the deputy head of sales at Twofour Rights. “The Indian Dream Hotel and Alex Polizzi’s travel series are just two examples where food plays a key part in the structure of the series.”

Jamie’s Super Food Family Classics, part of FMI’s offering, uses food as a vehicle to explore the diets and lifestyles of people who tend to live longer than those in the Western world. The show “puts a completely different spin on a travel show, as not only does Oliver visit and showcase the impressive landscapes of Switzerland, the island of Sardinia and South Korea, but he also educates the viewers on local cultures, produce and methods of living a healthier life,” says Neillis.

The combination of genres can sometimes pose an issue. “Funnily enough, with travel and food you’ve got to be careful because sometimes it leads to confusion for a buyer, where they’re asking if it’s a travel show or a food show,” adds all3media’s Horchner.

Even so, Lawley at Escapade reports, “The travel-food hybrid has been a very popular combination for some time now. Although still in demand, buyers are seeking this hybrid with a fresh approach.”

Another key selling point in the genre is having a compelling and engaging travel companion. Rive Gauche’s Kramer points to The Illegal Eater as an example of how a host can make a show appealing. The series is presented by Steven Page, a former member of the rock band Barenaked Ladies. “He’s a famous rocker, very personable, very quirky, and he takes you to a lot of strange places to eat,” Kramer explains.

Indeed, recognizable hosts can be a selling point in the international market. “There’s a strong desire for more well-known talent,” says Matthew Ashcroft, the CEO of Parade Media. The company has done well with Andy & Ben Eat the World and Andy & Ben Eat Australia, starring two Master­Chef Australia alums. According to Ashcroft, “You can go to the same locations again and again, but every star is going to have a different spin.” He adds, “We work on projects with new talent, but there’s risk aversion.”

Simply put, “famous faces still work,” all3media’s Horchner agrees. “Obviously, they’ll work in different territories, so people who are famous in Europe might not necessarily travel into Asia. They need to have some international link.” The company is leveraging baker and motorhead Paul Hollywood’s star power in the travel genre as well. At MIPTV, all3media is launching Paul Hollywood’s Car Nations, which takes viewers to destinations like France and Germany, looking at these places through an automotive lens.

No matter how well known the host, “The immersive travel experience for the viewer needs to feel credible, and that’s achieved through the talent,” says Hodges at Twofour Rights, which distributes shows such as Alex Polizzi’s Secret Italy. Hodges finds that Polizzi is “hugely popular [because] she offers a wealth of experience in travel and business [and] she’s a reputable, strong character.”

GRB’s Lolato believes that an engaging, authentic host has a voice and is not someone who simply wants to do a travel show. It’s important that the presenter has a genuine interest he or she would like to explore. In Hayden Quinn South Africa, the titular host and former MasterChef Australia contestant doesn’t have years of experience under his belt, but he’s making a name for himself and gaining a following because he feels authentic and has a passion for exploring the country’s food and culture.

“Hosts have to be engaging and lively, but they need to be credible,” echoes TCB’s Llewellyn-Jones. “You have to believe in the host. There needs to be a reason for them to be presenting,” so they must be doing something in which they have a level of expertise. In Ainsley Eats the Streets, part of TCB’s catalog, presenter and British chef Ainsley Harriott samples street food in different countries, and his cooking background brings credibility to the show.

FMI’s Neillis also believes that “hosts that are intellectual, reliable and genuinely interested in the culture of the location resonate extremely well with global audiences.”

“It’s really important that the host/guide has a passion for what he or she is representing, with solid experience and knowledge,” Escapade’s Lawley explains. “If we look at the most successful hosts to date, they are the essence of the series.”

Technology is also reshaping the travel genre. “Technology, including VR options, can provide a new perspective so that viewers can experience the destination or location,” says Lawley. “Food.Sail.Love., shot in true 4K, gives the viewer such a vibrant, sensual journey across the Mediterranean. True 4K breathes spectacular color and clarity into these destinations.”

Parade’s Ashcroft agrees, noting, “Technology and the drone have given production companies access to some of the most breathtaking locations and shots, which deliver premium onscreen value and some terrific cinematography.”

As technology continues to advance and viewers embrace interactivity, ancillary content is another element buyers are looking for to support travel shows. “You do need to be able to add value to programming,” TCB’s Llewellyn-Jones explains.

“We try to accompany all our projects with value-added content,” says Escapade’s Lawley, “including access to talent for interviews, promos, recipes, travel information and dedicated websites that viewers can visit to plan their own trip.”