MEDIA ANALYSIS: Sector take-off for travel magazines?

Travel is an area where there appears to be a surfeit of media dedicated to delivering consumers advice on holiday destinations. But one sector is under-represented: consumer magazines. While television programmes, digital channels, websites and newspaper sections can be found in abundance, only Conde Nast Traveller flies the flag for glossy publications.

However the landscape is changing. The Sunday Times is preparing for the January launch of its first standalone, bi-monthly consumer magazine, Travel, by River Publishing. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) launched Travel Spirit last month, published by Absolute Publishing, and independent publisher Deveraux Sinclair Publications intends to produce What Airline? magazine in January. There are also rumours that the Observer is launching a regular monthly travel supplement. All of a sudden the market looks as if it could become as overcrowded as a Mediterranean beach.

The British public have a great appetite for travel, which has been fuelled in recent years by the boom in low-cost airlines, such as easyJet and Ryanair, and the price cuts they have made to stay competitive. A recent American Express survey shows that air ticket prices from the UK to Europe dropped by 22 per cent in the past 12 months, compared with a rise across most other European territories. Cheap air travel has helped boost the number of holidays being taken by UK consumers, which has increased from 29 million in 1997 to 36 million in 2000, according to Office of National Statistics.

However, an increase in holidaymakers and travellers does not mean a growing market for magazines devoted to the subject. As one media buyer points out, the upmarket Traveller took a long time to build up its circulation, which stands at 81,368 for the six months to June 2002 (Audit Bureau of Circulations), a rise of 0.4 per cent on the same period the previous year.

The only other serious contender of recent years, EMAP Elan’s Escape Routes, launched in September 1999 and closed in April 2001. Insiders say that it never attracted enough readers or advertising revenue.

The new crop of magazines have high hopes. The Sunday Times Travel, priced at &£2.95, will have a print run of 150,000, and predicts newsstand sales of 100,000. ABTA’s Travel Spirit was launched as bi-annual and is also priced at &£2.95, with a print run of 80,000. ABTA’s aim is eventually to make the magazine quarterly. What Airline? is launching as a quarterly, with plans to go monthly. It has a print run of 150,000 copies and a launch price of &£2.

Media buyers believe there could be room for another magazine player, especially one offering an environment for luxury goods clients to promote items such as watches, cosmetics and jewellery. However, Nilufar Fowler, Optimedia group director magazines, says: “Travel is popular as part of a wider newspaper package, but whether there are 150,000 people who will go out every two months to buy a dedicated magazine is questionable.”

She points out that the Sunday Times brand “has an element of trust behind it”, which a standalone magazine may lack. The newspaper’s “heartland is practical travel advice”, which she says may be hard to translate to a bi-monthly magazine without duplication.

MindShare managing partner Tony Evans adds: “New entrants are not going to double the number of readers buying travel magazines.” But he believes that if a new magazine can offer a cheaper ratecard and cover price it may find a market.

While the sudden explosion of magazines means they will be jostling for shelf space, buyers point out this could be positive, as it will help retailers establish a dedicated category. However, Bill is keen that Traveller retains its position as a lifestyle publication and is racked accordingly.

Unfortunately, ultimate success depends on the robustness of the underlying travel market – a factor outside publishers’ control and one that has already been affected by terrorist attacks.

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