Some of the more enlightened travel media companies are going beyond the flashy, advertiser-driven media packages, AFAR is one of them.
In five years since its launch, AFAR Magazine has risen to the top echelon of the B2C travel magazine industry, and they did it right out of the gate with a focus on travel off the mass tourism grid.
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“When we launched we really saw a hole that wasn’t being addressed in travel media that needed to be talked about, which was this idea of traveling as a way to connect with people, immerse in the culture and really get beneath the surface of a place,” says co-founder Joe Diaz. “For us it’s about a deeper understanding of the world and ultimately yourself.”
Because of that focus, the magazine’s reader base has jumped from 50,000 in 2009 to over one million in 2014. Diaz reports, “There’s been a huge shift in the way that companies are talking about travel” in response to consumer demand and what people are sharing online.
“When people see through the beautiful lens of Instagram all these incredible things that their friends are doing, I think they find that extremely inspiring,” he says. “And they only have to click a button or two to figure out what their friends did, and how to do it. So technology, like many things, has just really accelerated the shift. And at the end of the day we’re human, so when we see our friends post these amazing photos of a street market in Bangkok, or an incredible outdoors experience in Montana, they want in and they have the technology to make that happen.”
On the Afar.com website, readers can create their own short, geotagged travel “Highlights” stories with one photo and 1,500 characters. To date, there are over 55,000 crowdsourced Highlights covering over 7,000 destinations.
“Now what we’re doing, and where the shift is happening for us, is we’re taking all that great content and curating it from the top down where our editors are going in and we’re reworking and relaunching our destination pages,” says Diaz.
The reason for the success of the Highlights is because they’re experiential and authentic, created by people who have participated in those experiences. The Highlights also provide a wide spectrum of data about reader interests. For example, India content is up over 50%, from 2011 to 2013. There’s been a 32% increase in visitation to Eastern European and Russian content, and a 43% increase in interest about the Middle East and Africa.
Clicks on family travel are also on the rise, jumping 15%, and adventure travel is up significantly, attracting a 30% increase in the last couple years.
“And another interesting thing is that not only is adventure travel up, but packaged guided tours are up, so group travel is up in our segment,” says Diaz. “It’s still a relatively small segment in experiential travel but it’s up over 50% in the last several years, and I think that’s a testament to how operators are responding to what our readers are asking for, which are these deeper, richer, more authentic, immersive experiences.”
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