New hope for travel and tourist magazines
While magazines of all niches continue to struggle, tourist magazines may be heading to sunnier skies despite the turbulent economic climate.
Nationally distributed magazines across most categories have been hit by falling numbers, according to figures from the Vocus Media Database. Travel and tourism magazines with national distributions decreased in number by 11 percent between October 2007 and October 2009, which is better than average compared to other niches. National shelter print magazines, which cover home-focused topics, decreased by an approximate 27 percent, while magazines in the music, automotive, and financial categories decreased by approximately 13, 7 and 23 percent, respectively. The relatively moderate decrease in national travel industry magazines is surprising considering the increasing trend toward local travel, which is difficult to highlight in a national travel magazine with a wide distribution.
Meanwhile, the drop in regional magazine numbers for both travel and shelter categories are the same at around 15 percent. This figure sits at the low end of regional magazines’ dwindling distribution, as their companions in the music and automotive categories have decreased by about 28 percent and 23 percent, respectively. It appears that even though more people are traveling locally, smaller regional magazines across all categories still have a tougher time staying afloat. Partly to blame is their dependence on local advertisers, which are less equipped than their massive national counterparts to weather the economic storm.
In fact, it would appear that the health of travel publications is dependent on the health of the travel industry as a whole. The U.S. Travel Association said in a press release that while “tourism has historically been more resilient than other economic sectors, it has never been immune.” The Travel Association claims that worldwide international arrivals decreased in 2008 by 2 percent, with a continuing downward trend into 2009. However, if the U.S. Senate passes the Travel Promotions Act, which the House of Representatives passed in October, international tourist interest in the U.S. could increase, resulting in an increased interest in regional travel magazines and guides. If passed, the legislation would create a public-private partnership to promote the U.S. as a premier travel destination and better explain the country’s security policies in hopes to attract international visitors. Even if foreign tourists only visit big cities and tourist traps, regional tourist magazines that cover those areas could substantially benefit.
Even with the overall dip in travel activity, a number of magazines have found ways to pique the interests of new readers and retain them. “People will always fly in planes, they just might take business class instead of first class, or coach instead of business class,” said Steve Andrews, publisher of United Airlines’ in-flight magazine, Hemispheres. The advertiser-dependent magazine, published by Ink Publishing, underwent a redesign in June after United Airlines dropped their previous publishing agreement with Pace Communications. The magazine now employs a more assertive editorial bent and features writers who formerly wrote for big-name publications, including National Geographic. According to Andrews, the magazine is doing well and is advantageously positioned in the market due to its method of distribution: United’s flights are fully booked, enabling every magazine in every seat to have at least one probable reader.
Afar is one of the biggest and gutsiest travel magazines to launch in the last few months. Hoping to provide for a new niche, it chose to take a different angle on travel. According to its Web site, the publication’s mission is to emphasize the “connection between the traveler, a place, and its people,” appealing to a more socially and environmentally responsible audience. Catering to tourists more interested in cultural understanding than in spas and tchotchke shops was a forward-thinking move for a national travel magazine.
Despite some of the difficulties the travel industry may have endured, it appears to be relatively strong and will possibly get stronger with federal promotion efforts and eventual economic recovery. While people may spend less when times are hard, their desire to explore new places will not go away, and travel publishers will only benefit from that wanderlust.
— Sarah Green
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