TRAVEL MEDIA: MEDIA FOR THE UPMARKET TRAVELLER - Stephen Armstrong on how a new style of glossy title is emerging to satisfy an increasing demand for more sophisticated travel writing

Travel writing has a long history in the British print media. A travel editor would dish out freebies to any journalist in the office on the basis that the hack who hadn’t been away for a while got two weeks in the Caribbean. Invariably, a deal was stitched up with a PR company to ensure favourable coverage, the journo served up a few ’beautiful beaches and warm, friendly people’ sentences, the advertisers paid through the nose to sit next to that tosh and the reader learned nothing. Not surprisingly, the hack and the PR were happy, while the advertiser and the reader found the whole business rather a waste of time.

Travel writing has a long history in the British print media. A

travel editor would dish out freebies to any journalist in the office on

the basis that the hack who hadn’t been away for a while got two weeks

in the Caribbean. Invariably, a deal was stitched up with a PR company

to ensure favourable coverage, the journo served up a few ’beautiful

beaches and warm, friendly people’ sentences, the advertisers paid

through the nose to sit next to that tosh and the reader learned

nothing. Not surprisingly, the hack and the PR were happy, while the

advertiser and the reader found the whole business rather a waste of

time.



Recently, however, things have begun to change. The British public has

started demanding more from its travel writers - inspired partly by the

work of authors such as Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux - and new magazines

are evolving to supply that demand. These titles are also designed to

meet the demand from quality travel advertisers for an upmarket,

targeted medium to hit the new breed of high-spending independent

travellers.



The two purest contenders for those eyes and that revenue are Conde

Nast’s Traveller, which launches later this year, and the National

Magazine Company’s Harpers and Queen Abroad. While the Harpers

publishing director, Jamie Bill, agrees that most glossy women’s titles

compete for revenue with Harpers and Queen Abroad, he does not believe

they offer the quality of content. Bill takes pride in the title’s

approach to independent writing.



Journalists like the Harpers and Queen columnist, Victor Lewis-Smith,

are given real travel stories to write, he explains, rather than pure

’sun ’n’ surf’ descriptions.



Harpers and Queen Abroad was launched in January this year, edited by

the Harpers travel editor, Catherine Fairweather, and will be banded on

to Harpers bi-annually. January’s issue had an ABC of 93,186 but it was

also rejigged to operate as the brochure for Destinations, an upmarket

travel fair that took place in January. So far, Harpers Abroad has

reigned supreme in the market. On 18 September, however, Conde Nast

launches its famous US upmarket monthly travel title, Traveller in the

UK.



According to Nicholas Coleridge, managing director of Conde Nast, this

publication will have greater scope than its US cousin. ’The richer,

better educated Briton has five to six weeks holiday a year, unlike the

ten days of the Americans,’ he says. ’Traveller will cater for all the

possible holidays a wealthier traveller could choose, from sybaritic to

cultural, from adventurous to business. The readers will be upmarket and

aged from late 20s to 60s. It will act as a sort of Which? for

readers.’



Coleridge is dismissive of Harpers and Queen Abroad, saying it seems to

be an imitation of Tatler’s travel supplement. ’We’ll be opening a new

market with this,’ he says. ’There’ll be travel advertisers but we’ve

also had interest from drinks, cars and luxury goods.’



Richard Britton, non-broadcast director of CIA MediaNetwork and the man

in charge of accounts such as Louis Vuitton, is happy the titles exist

but is not wildly enthused. ’Those magazines offer the reader who is

looking for travel information a more inspirational approach to travel

writing than can be got from guides such as Lonely Planet,’ he says.

’For upmarket clients, they appear to offer the right context for our

ads but they don’t offer such a vital readership that we would divert

funds from other titles to the upmarket travel sector. It’s more of an

incremental medium for us.’



Bill clearly believes that increment is enough to ensure success. ’We’ve

seen a growth in the market of 30 per cent year on year,’ he says.

’That’s from upmarket holiday operators such as Harlequin and, to a

lesser extent, cosmetic suncare products and some financial services.’

He doesn’t believe, however, that the incremental money is enough to

support that many extra players in the market. He’s still not sure about

increasing Harpers and Queen Abroad’s frequency from bi-annual and he is

dismissive of future competitors.



One of those potential competitors is the British Airways inflight

title, High Life, which is 25 years old next year. The airline and the

magazine’s publisher, Premier Magazines, have been looking at launching

the magazine on to the newsstands. Its current circulation is 283,000

with a readership of 1.7 million.



Although everyone concerned remains cagey, both the publisher, Craig

Waller, and the editor, Mark Jones, concede that the title’s newsstand

potential is being researched. Waller says that BA has recently

refocused and plans to exploit its brand’s reputation in the travel

sphere in as many areas as possible - the new approach to High Life is

part of that strategy.



’If we are to launch on to the newsstands, we would have to look at the

kind of magazine we think would survive,’ Jones says. ’Inflight

magazines have to appeal to the broadest possible church. Everyone from

grandmothers to teenagers reads them. Newsstand titles have to be far

more targeted.



We’d have to see if a youthful, upmarket approach would work. We would

also have to look at the US market’s requirements, as 50 per cent of our

readership is American.’



If Jones’s upmarket and youthful approach were to be realised, he would

be taking High Life into direct conflict with Traveller and Harpers

Abroad.



The only questions buyers have concerning this launch are about quality,

remembering, perhaps, those inflight magazines that lack, shall we say,

bite. Jones says he made it clear when he took the editor’s job in

October, from his position on the Evening Standard, that he wanted to

publish a real magazine that didn’t demonstrate the negative, bland

aspects of traditional inflight media. In this, he believes he has been

successful. Jones proudly reads out a letter from the Hollywood agent of

a film star who was savaged in a recent copy of High Life, complaining

that airline media is supposed to be safe, inoffensive publishing.



Here is the common ground shared by High Life, Harpers and Queen Abroad

and Traveller and it offers both an inducement and a risk to

advertisers.



As these titles seek to change an area of bland editorial, advertisers

may find that circulations increase and copy becomes livelier. On the

downside, the reviewer’s copy advertisers could guarantee would praise

the destination more fervently than their ads ever could, may disappear.

As travel media pushes forward into respectability, that loss of

automatic support is something holiday advertisers will have to get used

to.