Travel titles faces arduous journey

Launching a travel magazine can be as precarious as holidaying in an area which the Foreign Office has decreed a no-go zone.

It is a risk which Gregor Rankin, publisher of Food & Travel – a monthly title from Fox Publishing which goes on sale from December 4 – understands. He was also launch publisher of BBC Holidays, which closed after three years in 1995 with a circulation of under 50,000.

So can Food & Travel and the newly-launched Condé Nast Traveller succeed where Holidays failed?

Paradoxically, Rankin will find the market easier now than in 1992 precisely because he has competitors. When Holidays launched it was the only mass-market travel magazine on the shelves.

But Food & Travel will join Traveller, The Royal Geographical Society’s magazine Geographical and small-circulation independent title Wanderlust. National Magazines also published a bi-annual travel supplement to Harpers & Queen, called Harpers Abroad, bound in with the main title.

The sector has also been propelled by the ever-growing travel sections of the broadsheet weekend newspapers, the launch of dedicated cable TV station Travel Channel, the growing popularity of travel writers such as Bill Bryson and the improved quality of in-flight magazines, notably British Airways’ High Life and Virgin Atlantic’s Hot Air.

CIA Medianetwork non-broadcast director Richard Britton says: “Condé Nast has done Fox a favour by bringing focus to the market. That’s why IPC’s Eat Soup title failed – it was a title standing completely alone – it was not part of a definable market.”

Rankin has a modest circulation target for Food & Travel – he hopes for a settle-down figure of about 50,000. Traveller is targeting a circulation of 70,000 to 80,000.

Wanderlust’s editor Lyn Hughes says a major hurdle with travel publications is convincing travel companies that it is worth advertising in the title. She says that BBC Holidays suffered because people would read the title but then decide to book a holiday with a travel agent rather than booking directly with any of its advertisers.

But Rankin points out that advertisers in Food & Travel will be brand building and not expecting an immediate response.

Craig Waller, Premier Magazines managing director and publisher of High Life, says: “One problem is that, on the whole, hotels and travel agents do not have big budgets.”

Traveller has attempted to avoid this trap by positioning itself as a general interest title with travel as its focus. Publishing director Deborah Gresty says: “We are writing for people who are interested in travel but who also want to know about food, clothing, what to take with you and what to take back home.”

She adds that the calibre of the writers, which to date have included Salman Rushdie and Nicholas Shakespeare, attract people who would read travel literature but are not necessarily about to book a holiday in Hanoi.

Hence the magazine attracts high-spending luxury goods advertisers, such as Mercedes, Clinique and Piaget, as well as purely travel-related advertisers. Rankin points out that the food element of Food & Travel will attract additional advertisers.

Rankin is coy about how he will promote the title, revealing only that he has a marketing budget of 100,000 for the launch and that there will be an extensive direct mail drive, a poster campaign and ads run in six lifestyle titles.

However, Fox does not have a spectrum of consumer titles in which to promote Food & Travel, unlike Condé Nast. Hughes adds that many newspaper travel supplements will not carry advertisements for standalone titles, for obvious reasons. Neither does he have the resources to rival Traveller – with a spend of 1.2m it was Condé Nast’s biggest launch.

High Life’s Waller is planning to launch a newsstand version of his own title next year. He will not reveal any details of what the magazine will be called or how prominent the BA branding will be, but he says the title will be different from its in-flight sister.

Britton says: “High Life is consistently one of the best quality in-flight titles. But it may face a problem with distribution – unlike Sainsbury’s, BA does not have a chain of retail outlets which will automatically carry the title. Also consumers do not associate the BA brand with media.”

Hughes believes there is plenty of mileage for further, more niche travel titles. She says possible gaps in the market include a title for backpackers or people who take their car abroad with them.

According to Mintel, the travel market in this country is worth a huge 10bn a year, without including the spend on fares. Although the feelgood factor may slow down as building society conversion windfalls dry up, travel is obviously a market with enormous interest.

Britton thinks both Traveller and Food & Travel will be successful and that they are individual enough not to compete head on.

But the bottom line for publishers has to be whether a travel title can be lucrative. The US-edition of Traveller was published for about seven years before making a profit – expenses are inflated by the title’s refusal to accept “freebies” for journalists.

NatMags managing director Terry Mansfield says he has no plans to launch Harpers Abroad as a standalone title: “Editorially it is not a bad idea, but in terms of business it is.” Condé Nast, Fox and Premier will need deep pockets and patience if the travel magazine market is to be as successful as other lifestyle segments, such as food magazines.

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