Brand Strategy

Travel podcasts are ripe for advertisers headed into the summer, but not all hosts are eager to monetize

Both indie podcasters and companies like iHeartMedia are seeing advertiser interest in travel pods.
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Illustration: Francis Scialabba, Photos: Untold Italy, The Offbeat Life, Armchair Explorer

· 5 min read

As the summer heats up, people are turning to travel-themed podcasts for tips as they head out on vacation. Marketers are taking notice.

Take Danielle Desir, who hosts a podcast about travel and personal finance called The Thought Card. When she reached about 80,000 downloads total, she found that brands wanted to sponsor the pod for the first time, and she opened it up to ads in 2021. Tourism boards in cities like Rochester, New York, and Tempe, Arizona, “were really excited about audio,” each becoming sponsors last summer, Desir said. She also worked with travel brands like Expedia in 2021.

“I was able to actually quit my job in September 2021, and being a podcaster is one of my biggest income streams,” Desir told us.

Travel and tourism brands haven’t been the biggest investors in podcasts, accounting for just 1% of podcast ad revenue in 2020 and 2021, per the IAB. But as travel rebounds, brands in the category could find opportunities to reach listeners ready to spend.

“I think there is huge untapped potential for advertisers in the travel podcasting niche,” Katy Clarke, host of popular travel podcast Untold Italy, told Marketing Brew via email. “Our listeners are loyal and trust our recommendations.”

Prepare for liftoff

Debbie Arcangeles, host of The Offbeat Life, a podcast that focuses on traveling through the lens of remote work, said she saw steady growth in listenership during the pandemic. This year, she hit a milestone with nearly 25,000 downloads in a month.

Arcangeles reaches out to sponsors she’d like to work with, but these days, brands are coming to her just as often, seeking out her audience of 25- to 45-year-olds “who are really sick and tired of working in a cubicle,” she said.

Many of Arcangeles’s advertisers are travel companies, but she’s also worked with brands in other industries like Johnson & Johnson.

Travel writer Aaron Millar started his podcast, Armchair Explorer, in January 2020 to positive feedback and media attention despite the bad timing, he said. Advertisers first started showing interest when it hit about 5,000 downloads per episode, Millar told us, and that interest has only increased since.

In fact, riding the success of that show, Millar went on to start his own company, Armchair Productions, which creates audio projects for travel brands like Qatar Airlines, the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, and Travel Oregon.

”The travel industry, through Covid, really began to look at alternative ways that destinations could promote themselves to potential visitors. Things like webinars became really, really big, and still are, and I think that they started to realize the effectiveness of telling travel stories through these different new mediums,” he explained.

Big leagues

It’s not just indie podcasters who are finding success with travel shows; major networks are also investing in the genre.

In March, iHeartMedia soft-launched PodGuides, a platform that allows users to search for podcast episodes about specific destinations they might be interested in visiting. The company is still looking for its first sponsor ahead of the official debut, but iHeart General Manager and Chief Product Officer Chris Williams told us he anticipates that will happen within the month.

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In May, iHeart also dropped the first episode of Not Lost, a travel podcast co-produced with Malcolm Gladwell’s Pushkin Industries that’s currently at No. 3 on Chartable’s Apple Podcasts “Places & Travel” chart. Geico and eBay are among its early sponsors.

iHeart launched its first original travel podcast, Everywhere, in 2019. Will Pearson, COO of the iHeart Podcast Network, said the company started thinking more seriously about the travel podcast genre last year, but didn’t want to rush the effort given the state of the pandemic at the time.

“We had to wait for the right time where not only were consumers ready, but even advertisers were ready,” Pearson told us. “That also plays a role in it, when your ad market has to be ready to support something like this, and fortunately we’ve hit that point.”

Audio production company Double Elvis, known for its podcast Disgraceland, is also betting that advertisers are ready to engage with podcasts that promote re-engaging with the outside world.

In March, the company dropped a new podcast series, Lust for Live, which highlights events and places to visit in cities around the country. The first version is focused on Boston, but Double Elvis plans to release the next version about LA this summer, said co-founder and CEO Brady Sadler. Lust for Live: Boston found a 12-episode sponsor in concert-venue owner and operator Bowery Boston.

Advertisers not welcome

Some of the most popular travel podcasts don’t offer opportunities for advertisers at all.

Rick Steves, a travel writer whose podcast Travel with Rick Steves ranks at No. 5 on Chartable’s Apple Podcasts “Places & Travel” chart, doesn’t run any ads or sponsorships on his show, his team confirmed.

Mimi Lichtenstein, host of Adventures in Luxury Travel, which is currently No. 7 on Chartable’s Apple Podcasts travel chart, told us she has no plans to include advertising as part of her show.

Paul Papadimitriou, creator and co-host of air travel podcast Layovers, doesn’t accept sponsorships either, although not for lack of trying by travel startups and tourism companies. The show ranks in Chartable’s Apple Podcasts top 100 “Aviation” pods in several countries, including the US and Canada.

“I could do it tomorrow,” Papadimitriou said of monetizing the podcast. But since the show isn’t very expensive to produce, and it’s not a full-time job, he said he’d rather not deal with the added burden of having to censor himself for podcast publishers concerned about ensuring brand safety for sponsors.

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