TRAVEL MEDIA: TRAVEL NEWS - The nationals have turned to standalone sections to see off competition from Teletext and online rivals, Andy Fry writes

National newspapers have been major beneficiaries of the British holiday boom. As the number of trips taken has expanded in volume and range, travel sections in the broadsheets and mid-market papers have doubled in size.

National newspapers have been major beneficiaries of the British

holiday boom. As the number of trips taken has expanded in volume and

range, travel sections in the broadsheets and mid-market papers have

doubled in size.



The market leader by ad volume is the Saturday edition of The Daily

Telegraph which, in mid-April, was running a 24-page standalone travel

section.



Its nearest rival, The Sunday Times, ran 18 pages in the same week. The

mid-market is equally buoyant. Saturday’s Daily Mail carries 20 pages of

travel coverage in a fixed 96-page issue. Its sister title, The Mail on

Sunday, runs 23 pages.



There is no doubt the nationals are a potent medium for tour operators,

national tourist boards, car rental companies and the like. For a start,

they offer advertisers unparalleled flexibility. From a two-line ad for

a cottage in Devon to a full-page colour ad, clients can choose the

price band that suits them.



This flexibility has grown in importance as the holiday market has

fragmented.



According to Mintel, out of 28 million holidays taken in 1997, 13

million were organised independently.



This preference for tailor-made tours has led to a growth in business

from small to medium-sized specialist operators which do not have a

high-street retail presence and are disinclined to use TV as their

first-choice medium.



The Guardian and Observer commercial director, Carolyn McCall, claims

that these companies have made the quality press their high street. City

breaks, long-haul, safaris and cruises are just some of the fast-growing

sectors that use the nationals heavily.



The press has also benefited from the increasing number of people who

want to arrange their holidays directly, rather than through a travel

agent, says The Daily Telegraph classified sales manager, Stephen Dunk.

According to Dunk, the number of holidays booked through travel agents

has dropped by 1 per cent in the last five years while those booked

direct has gone up by 32 per cent. As a result, lots of companies are

looking to go direct by placing ads in the press and having their own

call centres as support.



With so much travel-based business at stake, competition between titles

is intense. But there is little to distinguish Saturday and Sunday in

terms of appeal to advertisers. It is no surprise that the largest

titles (The Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times and Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday)

secure the most business.



With limited duplication of readers between titles like Saturday’s Daily

Telegraph and The Sunday Times, it is possible to build near-national

coverage quickly with a handful of papers on the schedule. However, the

papers have also made efforts to distinguish the editorial positioning

of their travel coverage.



Only The Guardian, for example, would kick off its travel section with a

feature entitled, ’Out and About with the Pink Pound’ (17 April). By

contrast, The Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times in the same week both led

with pastoral features on France - the UK’s number one overseas

destination for independent tourists.



The Independent seeks to distinguish itself with the strapline:

’Independent advice for the independent traveller. From the only

national newspaper travel section that refuses free trips.’ Features on

outback Australia and African safaris underline the holiday preferences

for affluent young Brits.



McCall says: ’We have changed our travel coverage considerably in the

last two years to reflect the interests of our readers. There is no

doubt readership profile is a key factor in the client’s decision about

whether to book into your marketplace.’



In recent times, there has been a tendency to put travel coverage in a

standalone section. Although there is no sectional readership data to

show the impact of this move, it does provide a more flexible

proposition for advertisers.



McCall says The Guardian’s travel advertising has risen 42 per cent year

on year - coinciding with its shift to a standalone travel section.



The Observer’s travel advertising has grown 15 per cent since the

introduction of Escape in January.



The only danger, Dunk says, is that readers may choose to throw the

section straight in the bin. ’We were very careful to make sure our

travel section had developed into a mature business before we broke it

out of the main paper in January 1998.’



The major threat to the national press is the growth of rival travel

media. Teletext, for example, has captured 10 per cent of the holiday

market and expects digital TV to boost its fortunes still further. The

nationals claim, however, that Teletext’s business tends to be more

downmarket and lower value per holiday than that of the qualities and

mid-markets.



Teletext’s emphasis is also on last-minute deals, says Daily Mail ad

executive, Richard Donegan, whereas ’people tend to turn to their

newspapers when they are planning their holiday’.



Online and digital services are also a potential source of competition

because of their ability to provide up-to-the-minute data. But so far,

there is no evidence to suggest that nationals are losing out on

late-availability business to online.



Donegan says that clients like Thomson and Unijet are using the press to

shift this summer’s unbooked holidays. McCall says that travel ads can

be changed quickly and cheaply in the national press.



This robust performance is partly a reflection of the immense

penetration of the press in the UK compared to online. But the press

expects to co-opt the net revolution rather than capitulate its

entrenched position.



The Daily Telegraph, for example, has a website which Dunk claims can

hotlink to travel sales agents.



McCall sees the internet as complementary to the press. ’Papers prompt

you to look at new ideas while the net helps you go looking for

something in particular,’ she says. ’The opportunity for us is that we

have quality content. We need to work with a partner which can add a

transactional element to whatever we attempt to do online.’



Also to contend with is the growth of travel glossies. In addition to

the long-standing player, Traveller, published by Wexas, the UK market

now has Conde Nast Traveller and CNN Traveller. In reality, however,

limited print runs and less frequent issues mean these titles are

looking to capture the luxury end of the advertising market.



As for general market conditions, there is little sign that the UK’s

’near-recession’ has adversely affected the travel business. If

anything, the collapse of currencies in South-east Asia has made

long-haul even more attractive to Brits.