Skift Take

Traditional travel publications are in a flux right now, but it's an exciting time for re-invention.

It’s a rare age where the leadership roles at the U.S. two top consumer travel magazines are as much in flux as they are now.

In August Conde Nast announced that it was replacing Conde Nast Traveler editor-in-chief Klara Glowczewska with former Cookie EIC Pilar Guzman. Glowczewska had been at Traveler since 1987 and had run editorial since 2005. Out went publisher Carolyn Kremins as well, to be replaced with one of the company’s golden boys, Bill Wackermann. Kremins had been responsible for forging better relationships with cruise companies, especially Norwegian Cruise Line. (Coincidentally, new EIC Guzman is married to a former publisher of CN Traveler. Small world.)

As of today, at least 17 editorial staff at Traveler have been let go. 

Over at Travel + Leisure, editor-in-chief Nancy Novogrod will celebrate her twentieth anniversary as EIC in early October, after which she will certainly leave as the magazine transitions from American Express Publishing to the new owners at Time, Inc. The new owners have already offered buyouts to some business staff at T+L, and the publisher role will be up for grabs as well.

UPDATE: Jill Davison, an American Express Publishing spokeswoman, told Skift “this speculation is inaccurate.”

Both magazines are better at selling ads than any of their glossy peers, with T+L generating over $35 million in ad sales the last quarter and Traveler doing just shy of $30 million. For comparison National Geographic Traveler did under $12 million and AFAR made $2.3 million. But that’s not going to be enough going forward, and both companies will need to come to grips with their digital strategy at the same time they reinvent the print brand. The new leaders will be expected to make big, bold moves that position their travel brands to capture additional ad revenue and find new revenue streams their predecessors weren’t able to cultivate.

With that in mind, we turned to travel experts and media minds to come up with questions that we’d ask the new leaders at these two publications.

Where will you draw the line between editorial and advertising?

Your predecessors were clear that accepting free stuff was bad, but the copy had to include enough expensive places and mention enough high-end products to provide the right atmosphere for advertisers who could spend $70K on a one-page ad. When Norwegian Cruise Line began buying special inserts in Traveler, the magazine’s coverage of non-luxury cruise lines also picked up. We all know that promising budget travel advice doesn’t alway create the best place for advertisers.

Will the new leadership usher in a more Lucky-like era of product pushing or will you double-down on the type of copy you’d argue is relatively free of bias?

What role do you see social media — and its hash-tagging, free-trip taking participants — playing in your reinvention?

Independent travel writers/marketers make a lot of noise on social media, and they’ve been embraced by destination marketing organizations as a great source of chatter about the next great place. How do you keep your brand above the noise, while also taking advantages of the good things it can offer?

How does travel video fit into the new digital mix? Do you have any insight on how to make money from it?

Travel video on the editorial side has yet to find a clear voice with either T+L or Traveler, but in terms of sponsored video and native advertising, there’s a ton of money to be made, and it will be fascinating to see how either of the brands harness their partnerships in this space.

How are you planning on providing the appropriate experiences in each medium first, rather than force-feeding one content from another?

When magazines’ websites have tried to do hotel or restaurant profiles the content has always been a mish-mash of descriptions pulled from magazine articles, rather than a consistent product. T+L has done a much better job than its rival at giving its online team a wide purview — if not a budget — to do what’s best for digital rather than acting as a marketing vehicle for print.

Over at Traveler, its family of websites include the flagship as well as rather rudderless and understaffed sister sites Jaunted, HotelChatter, VegasChatter, and the once-strong If there’s any coordination between the five sites it’s not clear, and the “truth in travel” mission of the print brand isn’t exactly enforced for its digital freelancers.

How do you stay relevant against behemoths like TripAdvisor that get their content for free?

A “cheap” big feature in either of these magazines starts north of $1 a word. Even when you pull in eight figures a month in ad revenue, that adds up quick. Meanwhile over on the web, tens of millions of people visit TripAdvisor every month and read non-professional content that the site gets for next to nothing. And for many of these readers, they don’t necessarily care that the person talking about the hotel is a high-profile writer from Manhattan or just a traveling salesman from North Carolina. They just want enough information to make a smart decision.

Will the long-form travel feature survive? 

Many editors think the rush to do digital right means that a magazine needs to be a mix of product reviews and quick hits that comfortably fit on-line or into an app. And 4,000 word features about exploring Provence by foot certainly doesn’t fit that bill.

We’ve seen travel magazines that fully embraced service journalism, and it doesn’t turn out so well.

What makes your brand essential to travelers?

In the guidebook world you can tell the difference between a Lonely Planet reader and a Fodor’s user at 50 yards. If you’re both chasing the same advertisers, it’s difficult to speak to your readers in a unique way that makes them need what you have to say, not just every month when they pass the newsstand or open their mailbox, but every day at work when they need to dream about or plan their next great trip.

How long until you put Italy on the cover?

Like anything, there’s a formula to newsstand sales, and for travel magazines, that means inspiring images of Italy, Paris, Hawaii, and exotic beaches with great frequency. Italy has made it on T+L twice already this year — once in Rome, once in Venice — and its made it on Traveler as well. It’s so common to see the same destinations from year to year that it can be unsettling when a city such as Edinburgh makes the cover, as it did for October’s T+L issue.

Our bet is on March.

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Tags: conde nast traveler, travel and leisure

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