With podcasting booming while print is in decline, it’s time for travel companies to take the medium seriously. A few have started dabbling but there is a gap in the market for well-produced audio stories that aren’t just branded content. Rose Dykins reports

Flicking through the glossy pages of a travel magazine and lingering over meandering prose is a slow, immersive way of planning your next trip. But print is expensive and heavy to lug around when on the road (much as I am a fan).

Podcasts might not have pictures but they can deliver in-depth, thought-provoking stories, and it’s easier to multi-task when listening to them, making them ideal for the commute or a plane journey.

The vast majority of podcasts are free and the sheer range of niche topics they cover means there’s a podcast for everyone. There’s something intimate about the audio medium that makes the listener feel more connected.

Although podcasts have been around for about 15 years, their popularity has reached a tipping point. Podcast enthusiasm is at an all-time-high, on the up ever since the debut of hit true crime series Serial in 2014.

According to PwC’s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook, podcasting revenues from sponsorship and advertising have increased almost ten-fold in four years and are expected to nearly quadruple from their current level (just over £600 million) by 2022.

At the start of this year, Spotify acquired podcasting platforms Gimlet Media and Anchor for US$340 million, confirming its desire to better compete against Apple in the podcast realm.

Last autumn, Gimlet Creative announced the launch of Pick Me Up, a podcast about the secret lives of Lyft taxi drivers. It says: “You’ll meet five people who are driving toward something big. Like Marcelis in Oak Park, Illinois, who’s set on publishing his first children’s book, dedicated to his brother who recently passed away. Or Samuel in Manhattan, who’s rebuilding his life in a new city after losing his job to Hurricane Maria.”

Other travel brands are beginning to get in on the action too. Unlike taking out a print advert in a travel magazine to reach consumers, companies have more space and control over the content of an editorial-style podcast – and the chance to get up close and personal with consumers. As with all digital media, they also get to harvest engagement data.

Certain hotel brands have used podcasts to showcase the range of cultural experiences they can arrange for guests. For example, Intercontinental Hotels Group has recorded Stories of the Intercontinental Life, podcasts featuring thoughtful interviews with artisans and experts who are playing a role in a city’s “cultural moment”.

In The Rewards of Empathy: London, listeners hear from Mexican chef Martha Ortiz (who runs Ella Canta restaurant at the London Intercontinental Park Lane), Savile Row tailor Kathryn Sargent and authors Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds, who co-founded podcast series, Philosophy Bites.

The Detroit Foundation hotel – a boutique property in downtown Detroit – has its own on-site podcasting studio, visible to passersby. Here, broadcaster Hillary Sawchuk records A Drink With Detroit, where she chats with local celebrities and entrepreneurs over their favourite tipple. Previous guests have included pro-skater Tony Hawk, actor Algee Smith and producer Matthew Budman.

This month, I worked on Singapore Airlines’ first podcast, Make Your Productivity Fly. Recorded in the airline’s SilverKris lounge at Heathrow Terminal 2, and available on iTunes and Podbean, the podcast features leadership insights and practical tips for enhancing work output at different stages of a business trip.

Sheldon Hee, general manager of Singapore Airlines for UK and Ireland, says the podcast is “part of our offering to corporate travellers and we hope that people find the discussion on enhancing productivity whilst flying both useful and interesting”.

It’s not just hotels and airlines that are getting creative in the studio. Luggage brand Away has created Airplane Mode, a podcast series exploring the reasons why people travel. Episodes have included Work Trip – where Phoebe Lovatt, founder of co-working/co-living space the Working Woman’s Club, shares ideas for balancing work and travel.

At the same time, travel insurance company World Nomads curates podcasts for “independent adventurers” that encourage listeners to explore their boundaries, by sharing insights from destination experts and profiling “amazing nomads” such as Arctic and Antarctic expedition leader, Lauren Farmer.

This year, we should see even more travel brands recording and releasing podcast series that, rather than simply shouting about their products, appeal to travellers on an intellectual, personal level, while bringing their brand story to life.

Editor’s note: Since publishing this piece, Marriott International created its own podcast called Marriott In Focus, which offers expert insight into the world of leadership. Hosted by Pandora Sykes, it covers things like self-care and ambition. The podcasts support the “How To Lead In 2019” live events hosted by Marriott with discussions recorded afterwards.

The third event – In Focus: Turn Ambition into Reality – takes place on May 22, with the podcast following shortly afterwards.

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