TV travel hosts find ways to connect with viewers beyond the living room

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Denella Ri'chard, host of "Traveling With Denella Ri'chard," says many travel advisors watch her show.
Denella Ri'chard, host of "Traveling With Denella Ri'chard," says many travel advisors watch her show. Source: Denella Ri'chard

Travel-focused television has a long history of inspiring consumers to get off their couches and take a trip.

The hosts of those shows, like the late Anthony Bourdain, are often some of the industry's best-known names and have launched thousands of vacations.

Within the industry, their partnerships run deep, benefiting everyone from travel advisors to suppliers to on-the-ground hospitality workers. Some have even developed travel products of their own.

The current crop of travel show hosts includes some who partner directly with travel providers, including Samantha Brown, family travel specialist Colleen Kelly and the up-and-coming Denella Ri'chard, a former cruise marketing director. 

We spoke to these hosts and their producers about those partnerships, what makes their shows unique and why public television is a great place for travel TV.

A host from within the industry

Ri'chard was uniquely positioned to host a travel show. Her 1995 degree from Southern University was in television, and she spent her first years out of college with a production company in Dallas. But after sending crews and talent around the world but staying home herself, she decided she wanted to travel.

As the Internet burgeoned, she was recruited for an online travel company and spent several years working in Europe. She then began a decades-long career in hotels and cruise lines that culminated with being director of trade marketing and engagement for Holland America Line.

Then, the pandemic hit. She let her team go before she lost her position, as well.

A friend who had just launched a streaming network asked her if she would get back into television, and "Traveling With Denella Ri'chard" was born. The show airs on various ABC, CBS, NBC and CW affiliate stations, as well as streaming platforms GFNTV and GoTraveler.

"I started the travel show to help bring travel back," Ri'chard said. "We started during the pandemic. We started the show during a time when no one was on cruise ships, when planes were grounded, when hotel occupancy was at its worst. And it all started to inspire people to travel the world again."

She works closely with cruise lines, suppliers and destination management companies to feature destinations, specifically focusing on cultural aspects. Her sponsors are her industry peers, who she's enjoying working with in her new role. 

One of her key sponsors is the travel agency Magical Vacation Planner, with offices in Orlando and Mitchell, Ind. Ri'chard, who is often asked for her itineraries, is talking with them about curating experiences for her television audience. 

She also hears from other advisors often.

"I have many travel advisors who watch my show as an entertaining learning tool to recommend things to do and where to stay in the destination to their clients," she said. "They also ask me for the printed itinerary to provide to their clients."

A travel club for families

Kelly, host of PBS's "Family Travel With Colleen Kelly," recently launched the Colleen Kelly Travel Club. It features discounted travel prices, with travel facilitated by Travel + Leisure.

Colleen Kelly recently launched the Colleen Kelly Travel Club.
Colleen Kelly recently launched the Colleen Kelly Travel Club. Source: Colleen Kelly

About 12 years ago, Kelly was working for a local show on NBC as a correspondent. With two young daughters, she was looking for content about family travel, but there wasn't much out there. She decided to create her own show. PBS liked her pitch. 

"I had so many people, when I told them I wanted to be a national travel host, that thought I was crazy," she said. "It just went from a dream."

Today, her show airs in more than 94% of the country and is in its eighth season.

PBS hosts rely on sponsors to fund their shows. This year, Kelly is working 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 didn't have the capability to offer travel services. Now, her partnership with Travel + Leisure enables just that. She is working on crafting more detailed itineraries.

Kelly receives a small percentage of what travelers spend. This fall, she's planning on going on a media tour to promote destinations she loves and the club, as well.

From the Travel Channel to PBS

Brown, a mainstay of travel television in recent decades, made the move to PBS seven years ago from the Travel Channel, whose programming today mostly focuses on the paranormal. That move completely flipped the way her show was funded, said her husband, Kevin O'Leary, who is executive producer of Samantha Brown Media.

The Travel Channel funded her shows through ad sales. But at PBS, Brown and O'Leary are responsible for finding their own partners, who get a certain amount of airtime before and after the show. (Under PBS, they also own the show, whereas the Travel Channel owned Brown's work.)

Samantha Brown, a mainstay of travel television in recent decades, made the move to PBS seven years ago from the Travel Channel.
Samantha Brown, a mainstay of travel television in recent decades, made the move to PBS seven years ago from the Travel Channel. Source: Samantha Brown

"If you had told me 10 years ago that moving to public television would be the most entrepreneurial thing I ever did, I would not have believed you," O'Leary said.

But with several key industry partnerships, "Samantha Brown's Places to Love" was made possible. First came AmaWaterways, O'Leary said. They were on board before a single episode aired and remain a sponsor. Brown has hosted several cruises with AmaWaterways, and has also filmed content for the brand.

She also has a partnership with AAA Travel, speaking internally to its agents and doing some public-facing events together, and another with Rocky Mountaineer, with whom Brown has also hosted trips. Fort Myers, Fla., has also sponsored the show. 

When viewers seek travel advice, O'Leary often sends them to AAA Travel. He also keeps a website updated with details highlighting the products and people featured on the show.

"It costs a lot of money to do these shows, and there are ways we can do them cheaper," O'Leary said. "We choose to make them the better way, not the cheaper way. The only way we can do that is because of the funding that these sponsors give us. It's critical for us. You know, there are less travel shows out for a reason. They're hard to make. They're expensive. And the value that these sponsors give us is certainly appreciated, and we'll do anything we can to help support them."

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