Skift Take

The way people consume information about travel is changing, and media is evolving to keep up with that shift.

We tackled the changing role of travel media In a recent Skift podcast that hit a little close to home.

Nathan Lump, editor of Travel + Leisure, and Pavia Rosati, founder and CEO of the travel site Fathom, joined us for a reflective (and occasionally argumentative) episode.

Here are five takeaways from the conversation:

Media companies are finding new ways to make money.

“Our core business model is still monetizing the eyeballs of our audience,” Lump said. “Whether that is in print or in digital.”

He said travel advertising has “very significantly” moved to digital. But Lump said the publication is also trying new revenue streams, including selling trips in partnership with a travel company.

Branded content is also an increasingly important part of the publication’s business model,  with more clients seeking “co-branded” or “native” content produced in partnership with editorial teams.

“From my perspective, if we’re going to be distributing that content, the better it is, the better experience our audience is going to have,” he said. “Fundamentally, for me, that the win-win there. I’m all for doing what I can to make sure that that stuff that we make or that our partners make or are involved in making, is as good as it possibly can be.”

Rosati talked about partnerships as well, with companies including Kate Space, Qantas, Discover, and American Express.

“We want this to be a website where passionate travelers can find the companies that they have an interest in, where those companies can find those travelers,” she said.

Is Donald Trump the user-generated content of politics?

Rosati thinks so. In an unexpected detour from talking about sites such as TripAdvisor, she said she understands that user reviews have a place, but prefers to hear from voices with expertise. Enter Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

“He’s ranting like a lunatic, but the man knows nothing about politics,” Rosati said. “Donald Trump is user generated content on the political scale. I would much rather hear from somebody who’s actually had the challenge of trying to get a law made and trying to get a bill passed and trying to manage a large governmental budget and hear from that person about how we should be solving our problems. Not from somebody with a good sound bite.”

Travel magazines and websites don’t just compete with other travel media.

Both guests said they consider each other competition. But the list of other competitors is extensive: newspapers, sites such as TripAdvisor, and basically any attention-grabbing headline that might take a few minutes of a user’s time.

“We have to strive harder than we ever have before to do things that are compelling and grab people’s attention,” Lump said. “If you want to have a business at any kind of scale, you have to think about how do you also get the attention of people who are not constantly thinking about travel.”

Travel publications are taking a cue from TripAdvisor.

Both Lump and Rosati acknowledged the power of TripAdvisor and said they are finding value in content from users.

After Fathom invited readers to share their stories, Rosati said she was pleasantly surprised by the responses.

“We always hope for the best, but it’s not as though we were expecting the beautifully written literary [stories], video, high-quality photographs that we’ve ended up getting,” she said.

Lump said that T+L has been collecting user reviews and ratings for more than 20 years as part of the magazine’s annual World’s Best Awards.

“What was interesting to me that I discovered, not that long ago, we’ve always been harnessing these user ratings but we also have verbatims from hundreds of thousands of people that they’ve shared with us,” he said. “We’re just never publishing them. That’ll change.”

Even if they aren’t news-focused, travel publications have to find ways to respond to breaking news.

Travel + Leisure sent its May Europe issue to the printer two weeks before terrorists attacked Brussels in March. Because magazines work with such early deadlines, anything can happen between the time an issue is completed and its distribution.

“We have to think very, very carefully about, not just world events, but also…what content is going to be relevant a year from now,” Lump said. “It’s a very particular art. We pay really close attention.”

He said editors watch hot spots carefully and try to plan accordingly, but also to avoid alarmist coverage.

“Do I have a story in the works on Syria right now? No, I do not,” he said. “I also think it’s really important for us as members of the travel media to also be encouraging of travel, frankly. Encouraging of travel to places that, in fact, are totally fine.”

At Fathom, the founders decided not to send out the newsletter they had planned on the morning of the Brussels attacks. Instead, they wrote a message about travel being a force for good and highlighted past coverage that reflected that sentiment.

Rosati said she did publish a story on Syria last year, a personal piece about how visiting the country was one of the best things she had ever done.

“Syria will come back because the march of time just mandates that it will. It will never come back the same way,” she said. “Something will come back and, in the meantime, it was just a valentine to a place that had meant a great deal to me.”

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Tags: skift podcast, travel media

Photo Credit: Travel media has moved beyond the newsstand. Todd Lappin / Flickr

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