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The first complete issue of Conde Nast Traveler under the title’s new Editor-in-Chief arrives on newsstands and in mail boxes this week.
New Editor-in-Chief Pilar Guzmán took over in August from Klara Glowczewska, who had run the magazine since 2005. Over the past few years the magazine had grown a bit, well, safe. Despite solid consumer reporting in the front of the book by people like Barbara Peterson and Wendy Perrin and essays by prominent figures, the features were often of the “Where are really wealthy and good-looking people going to this month?”, and the fashion features were easily mockable.
Still, it had a certain gravitas that was, if not the best barometer of what was happening now in travel, a good way of measuring what was important to an establishment made up of airlines, hotel brands, cruise lines, and high-end travel agents.
Guzmán writes in her editor’s letter that the new Traveler will “replicate the experience of getting the download from our most interesting, most well-traveled and in-the-know friends.” Let’s see how interesting these friends are.
The first issue under new management begins with a pop. A New Coke, 1980s kind of pop, that is.
On the cover is a portrait of Christy Turlington Burns with a desert landscape reflected in her Ray-Ban sunglasses. To the right of her are destinations printed in boldface — Italy, Brazil, Hawaii — concluded by the word “Go!” Everything screams Conde Nast in the ’80s — when Traveler was first launched — in a pitch-perfect way that people either love or hate, with little room for feelings in-between.
We like it, for the record.
Magazine covers have become so very, very, very boring these days that this is refreshing in its attempt to be different. So while others might complain about the supermodel, the lack of a clear destination, or even the Ray-Ban product placement, we’ll say thank God, at least it’s not Italy in March, again.
They took a chance on the cover, and that’s not bad.
We wish that they also took chances on the inside of the magazine.
In place of the rather ornate over-design of the last few years readers are presented with an unadorned layout that is so stripped down it speaks with a near whisper, rather than authority.
That’s an issue, largely because the front of the book feels devoid of expert voices, or a clear sense of expertise. We still have the “Word of Mouth” section filled with tips and techniques (including advice from Monocle magazine’s Tyler Brulé, who knows a thing or two about frequent travel), but the magazine’s “The Informer” section has been replaced with a collection of etcetera called “Where What How.”
We liked “The Informer.” In fact, it was one of the more reliable sources of consumer travel news in print. Rare is the publication that reports on travel as if it is real news, and stories in “The Informer” tended to do so. The mix of consumer reporting, Ombudsman advice, and even news from travel agents, grounded the magazine in a way that balanced the glamorous flights of fancy later in its pages.
The front of the book now lacks that anchor and it’s hard to tell where “Word of Mouth” ends and “Where What How” begins. It’s still a bit of a hodge-podge across both sections, with short pieces rounding up accessories to an overview of hotel design with pick-up art from the Morgans Hotel Group that we ran on Skift nearly a year ago.
“What Where How” has a few personal essays about travel. They’re meant to inspire. They range from a short essay by the most successful travel blogger on Instagram to someone who takes pictures of rocks. While a feature about small hotel operators is interesting, we’re not clear what’s going on here. You don’t get a sense that you’re getting advice from an expert so much as someone with a hunch about lots of things they are kind of interested in.
The first piece in the feature well is the tale of a fashion designer who goes to India with a group of women. It’s structured as five lessons about creating a perfect trip, and it’s somewhat surprising that one of those lessons doesn’t deal with the wave of violence against women in India that’s dominated headlines for the last year. That’s the type of advice you’d want from a friend in the know.
A spotlight on Rome illustrated by the well-respected duo Gentl & Hyers photography team manages to turn the city of eternal light into a second-tier Scandinavian outpost. When we think of Rome, we don’t typically think of dark Farrow & Ball paint colors and low-lit interiors. The photos are lovely, but it makes us want to turn down the lights and cook some pasta rather than jump on a plane and experience Rome’s streets, museums, and restaurants.
And then there was a Marfa feature. Why, oh, why does the world need another travel feature about Marfa, Texas? It sounds like a nice place from the last decade and a half-worth of travel features that U.S. readers have had to stomach about this remote Texas town. But this is the laziest travel assignment of our generation — enough to make a Burma gig look absolutely cutting edge. It makes Provence appear undiscovered and Tuscany unknown. Please stop with the Marfa.
Consumer news reporting doesn’t make an appearance until the very end of the issue. There is the tiniest ombudsman story we’ve ever seen, and a lots of nuggets related to other stories in the magazine. To say Traveler is squandering its talents here is an understatement. We hope that there will be more room for these voices in the promised redesign of CNTraveler.com.
If the new Traveler is about sharing advice with in-the-know friends, it’s clear they don’t have any black ones, as there’s a remarkable lack of diversity in the magazine. Among the subjects and models, we counted zero people of color. To be fair, CNT isn’t alone among travel magazines with its tendency toward monoculture. If you combine all the people of color appearing in the March issues Travel + Leisure, AFAR, and National Geographic Traveler, you’d still have enough fingers left over to order at least a half-dozen things at your local bar.
Guzman and her peers created Cookie, which reinvented what a parenting magazine could be, and they did an excellent job at Martha Stewart Living, too. Despite this legacy, we don’t see equally creative ideas in the new Traveler.
It’s not just the radical that’s missing at this point, it’s the reliable, too. In its attempt to be conversational it misses out on being authoritative, as if it is afraid to own the ‘truth in travel’ tag line on its cover. But in the absence of that, the magazine at this point doesn’t offer a compelling alternative that distinguishes it from all the other voices out there, both in print and online.