Following the footsteps of the famous
Jun 09, 2017 12:13PM

Travel on TV invariably comes with a celebrity in tow, but do these shows translate into holiday bookings? Joanna booth tunes in.

Do the journeys of Joanna Lumley jump-start your desire to travel? Or does Simon Reeve fuel your wanderlust with his adventures across the globe? Chances are, with everyone from Lionel Blair to Richard Ayoade popping up on our screens in far-flung places, there will be a famous face you admire fronting a show that involves travel.

Things have changed since the days when Judith Chalmers would profile a fairly mainstream bucket-and-spade destination. As our adventurous spirit – and obsession with celebrity – has grown, TV has moved on too. Now travel shows nearly always feature a famous host, who often ventures off the beaten track to find experiences to thrill viewers.

But this doesn’t stop travellers from following in their footsteps – if anything, it seems to spur them on. The Japan National Tourism Organisation reported a huge increase in enquiries following Joanna Lumley’s ITV series, saying it encouraged visitors to look beyond Tokyo. Inside Japan found clients keen to replicate Lumley’s adventures in detail, and were even able to help with the more unusual requests, from taking travellers to see the Japanese cranes in Turui, to introducing them to one of the trainee geishas Lumley met in Kyoto.

Lumley is a heavyweight in the field. Suzel Taber-Shaw credits her with doubling Taber Holidays’ bookings to Tromso after her Northern Lights series. The fact that the operator was able to provide clients with the same guide that Lumley used was a huge selling point, and it was quick to jump on the chance for publicity, creating and promoting an itinerary that mirrored her experiences. Taber-Shaw says the actress gave people who didn’t think of themselves as adventurous the courage to take a trip that was, trying activities ranging from dog-sledding to snowmobile safaris.

Celebrity endorsement can alter a client’s mindset and encourage them to experiment with a different type of holiday than they’ve considered before. Triangle Travel’s Tiffany Abbey booked regular clients on their first rail trip after they were inspired by Michael Portillo’s Great Continental Railway Journeys, and Westoe Travel’s Graeme Brett made a £6,000 booking with Great Rail Journeys after Billy Connolly’s Tracks Across America aired. Uniworld’s Kathryn Beadle found that Channel 5’s Cruising with Jane McDonald had the effect not only of generating a flood of bookings for the line itself, but also illustrating what the river cruise market is all about, to both customers and agents.

It’s not only destinations that are benefiting – tour operators and individual properties are receiving the celebrity treatment too. Since the broadcast of The Millionaires’ Holiday Club in June last year, ITC has booked £1 million-worth of trips from customers who got in contact because they watched the documentary on the operator.

The website of Ecuadorean cloudforest hideaway Mashpi Lodge actually crashed during the episode of BBC Two’s Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby in which it featured, because so many people were trying to access it – and booking enquiries increased more than 1,000%. When Kenyan hotel Giraffe Manor appeared on the show, web traffic doubled.

It’s not only about quantity, however. The Safari Collection noted that enquiries following the TV show were very high-quality compared with the type it received after content on Giraffe Manor went viral on Buzzfeed.

Inspiration doesn’t come only from travel-specific shows – everything from cookery programmes and feature films to reality TV shows and documentaries can spark an interest. Wendy Wu Tours saw a spike in demand for Kerala, kick-started by The Real Marigold Hotel. Head of marketing Ben Briggs explains: “We like to jump on to these shows through our PR and social media channels, as well as encouraging agents to get behind it.”

Typically Holidays has homed in on the culinary side of things, with multiple bookings for Italian cookery school trips, Bologna holidays and Palermo street food tours inspired by TV chefs Rick Stein and Gino D’Acampo. The operator’s trade support, Tony Byrne, now keeps an eye on the TV schedules and posts on Facebook to keep agents in the loop when a relevant show is due to air.

Belper Travel’s Sandra Lovett booked clients a trip in Italy prompted by the Inspector Montalbano drama series, and Helene-Marie Malpass at Inspired Luxury Escapes sent clients to New Zealand after they won the lottery and were able to make their fantasy of a Lord of the Rings holiday come true, complete with a trip to the Hobbiton movie set. And at Trailfinders, Dave Brammer received three enquiries about spotting snow leopards
in the Himalayas the morning after the David Attenborough-narrated Planet Earth II aired, two of which led to bookings. “You don’t even have to watch the programme to know where it’s been,” he says. “You can tell by the trend of enquiries.”

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