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Ten days ago Condé Nast Traveler‘s consumer news expert Wendy Perrin announced she was leaving after more than two decades at the magazine.
Today she resurfaces at TripAdvisor, where she will take on the newly created role of TripAdvisor Travel Advocate.
“Wendy Perrin is a travel industry icon and we are thrilled to add her to the TripAdvisor team,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor. “Wendy’s travel insights and expertise will add another layer of compelling content for our travelers. With over 150 million reviews and opinions from our community around the world, travelers are sure to find everything they need to plan their perfect trip.”
It was clear that things had changed at Traveler since the appointment of a new editor in August 2013, and that Perrin’s style of consumer reporting was not quite as welcome.
The newly re-invented publication arrived in February with a thoroughly gutted consumer news and reporting section. Perrin’s section was shoved in the back and relegated to smaller bits on the magazine’s website.
On the surface, moving from one of the U.S.’s largest consumer magazines to a website built atop user-generated content is a huge shift for someone who’s been identified with the former for so long. But dig a little deeper and it’s not a terribly odd move.
Despite some gains, print publishing does not have anywhere near the same growth as TripAdvisor, which now reaches hundreds of millions of readers a month. These readers are after both advice on particular hotels and insight into visiting particular destinations.
Although Perrin was at one of the top travel magazines in the U.S., she was known for being approachable and helpful, traits that will come in handy as she sets out to direct the conversations happening on TripAdvisor, and help readers get better insight into the nuts and bolts of travel.
Skift spoke to her this past weekend about the move.
Skift: Why TripAdvisor?
Wendy Perrin: It’s where everyone is. It’s the world’s largest travel site. I’ve always been all about empowering travelers—and, clearly, TripAdvisor is a community of impassioned travelers who want to empower one another: They’ve posted literally 150 million reviews and opinions.
Also, I’ve spent the past 25 years known for my honesty as a journalist. I didn’t want to have to give up that credibility, and TripAdvisor is probably the most straight-up place I could work for. They’re very keen on protecting their credibility. So I think it’s a good fit.
Skift: You’ve been at Condé Nast Traveler for two decades. Its masthead is filled with professional travel experts. TripAdvisor is packed with millions of non-experts. On the surface this is like going from the Yankees to the Mets. Is it?
Perrin: First of all, there aren’t as many travel experts at Condé Nast Traveler as there used to be. Second, I don’t see people as “non-experts” just because they don’t work for a travel magazine. I know plenty of very well-traveled people I trust (my doctor, my lawyer, my neighbors) who check TripAdvisor for every trip and then post reviews when they return. And even though members of the TripAdvisor community may not claim to be “experts,” they’re reporting what happened just last week or even yesterday. The advice in print magazines is at least three months old.
Also, different travelers have different tastes, needs, and interests. You might not share the taste of one single “expert,” but if you can get the opinions of a range of travelers with different likes and dislikes, you can probably find several you relate to and glean useful info from them. TripAdvisor gives you the wisdom of the crowd, and my job will be to help harness the power of those millions of travel reporters.
Honestly, I think it’s like going from the Yankees to the whole rest of the League. Just think about the All-Star Team that can be assembled from that.
Skift: TripAdvisor gets tens of millions of visits a month, and is easily the largest travel content site on the Internet. How are you going to stand out from all the other voices?
Perrin: I’ll have a regular schedule of posts on TripAdvisor’s blog, including posts where I answer questions that their community has asked me, and I’ll also provide content for their member email that goes to millions. I’ll be curating the best insights of the community as well, looking for trends based on what they’re reporting, and sharing those trends with the world in podcasts, on television, etc. Anyway, I’m not sure my goal is to stand out. Rather, it’s to make the best information stand out.
Skift: There’s tons of money floating around travel, but print magazines are thinner now and there are few new entrants. What’s gone wrong with traditional print publications?
Perrin: For starters, the lead time is too long. We’re living in a world where we want the latest information now.
And, of course, there aren’t enough print ads, which leads to not enough editorial pages, which can lead to a shift in editorial coverage: When you have only so many pages you can fill, you have to make really tough choices about what to include and what to omit. You tend to chop out the caveats about what’s bad, since you can’t chop out the recommendations of what’s good.
But when you cut out most of the negatives from your coverage and leave only the positives, this can destroy credibility. By contrast, online space is limitless: You can include the negatives that travelers need to know, as well as the positives. It also means there’s enough space to publish all the content that the readers want in addition to the content that advertisers want, as opposed to having to sacrifice the former to make room for the latter.
Skift: You just left Traveler. What did you think needed to happen under new leadership?
Perrin: I think they needed to remodel the house and give it a new paint job and redecorate a bit. But they opted to tear down the whole house and rebuild from scratch. I think some of the essential foundations disappeared in the process.
Skift: With all the user-generated content out there, what’s the role of travel experts like yourself?
Perrin: The role of an expert has changed radically in the past two decades. Expertise used to be a one-way broadcast. Now it’s a group conversation. I think today the job of a travel expert is to engage travelers, harness their wisdom, and distill it. The TripAdvisor community is contributing millions of up-to-the-minute individual experiences. I hope to help filter those through the breadth of my global experience and produce a set of information that is empowering to all.
Skift: Even with the boom of online travel agencies, you still saw a role for traditional travel agents in the buying process. What kind of agent still matters to the average traveler?
Perrin: Stellar ones. Agents who can solve problems you can’t solve yourself. I’ve found that these tend to be well-connected trip orchestrators with in-depth knowledge of challenging destinations. I’ve been tracking such travel fixers for years now. Actually, I’m highlighting some of them on my new site, wendyperrin.com.
Skift: You’re moving from a pure editorial role to an organization that is dominant in content but critics would contend does not do ‘journalism.’ How would you respond to that?
Perrin: Define “journalism.” I think it’s changed. Nowadays, just being in the right place at the right time with a smartphone camera can be more powerful than having all the journalistic credentials in the world. Personally, I’d like to try to meld old-world journalism with new-world journalism by harnessing the power of all those citizen journalists in the TripAdvisor community. It’s a grand experiment. And It’s inspiring that TripAdvisor has the vision to see that travel could benefit from this new type of journalism.
It could be the future.