As many as 80 out of every 100 Americans take a planned vacation away from home at least occasionally, according to a recent travel industry survey. With so many people on the road, it's not surprising that there is a strong consumer demand for information about where to go and what to do next. Enter television as a fairly recent and modestly effective resource in aiding travelers in their vacation decisions.
Travel and travel-related shows are now appearing with some regularity on commercial, public and cable networks. In fact, there is a cable network called the Travel Channel that broadcasts travel features and news 24 hours a day.
All three major network morning shows transport cast and crew to different locales on occasion, a good indication of television's interest in travel programing. NBC's Today show, for example, set up shop for a week in Hawaii in November. One reason is that "the ratings go up when the shows go on the road," says Today spokeswoman Lynn Appelbaum. "More viewers tune in."
PBS has just launched its third season of the 15-part series Travels, in which viewers are taken to a mix of exotic and popular destinations, including Ireland, Madagascar, Sarawak and Barcelona. The shows are the kind that have appeal both for armchair travelers and those who may decide to venture to some of these places.
Weekend Travel Update, a regularly scheduled half-hour travel feature and news show originating from San Francisco, is broadcast nationally on commercial networks.
Rick Steves, author of an engaging guidebook to offbeat Europe, Europe Through the Back Door, is preparing a second series of TV tours _ Travels in Europe _ to often-overlooked destinations. Like last year's inaugural reports, they are aimed at independent travelers on a budget and are shown on public channels.
Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? is a new geography game show on public television for youngsters 8 to 13 years old. With each afternoon's tough geography quiz, there's a substantial dose of kid-oriented travel information about destinations in the United States and abroad.
As a source of travel information, television works best as a supplement to such traditional resources as guidebooks, magazines and newspaper travel sections. The visual impact of a full-color video report _ depicting what a place really looks like _ cannot be duplicated by the print media, even in magazine photo spreads.
But the tube generally falters when it comes to providing such important back-up details as what a trip will cost, where to stay and how to get there. Also, no TV show can offer all the historical and cultural information that dedicated sightseers consider essential to planning.
And the TV tours are not free of error. Last year, the Travel Channel aired a totally inept program called Inside Travel _ a round-table discussion featuring travel authorities _ that left the ridiculous impression that visitors to the Caribbean must pay $200 to $300 a night for lodging. (The truth is that fine lodging is available at $50 to $75 a night for two.)
Despite the near universal appeal of leisure travel, many of television's travel reports seem strangely hidden in little-watched time periods or used only as filler material to plug a gap in the day's material.