The new Los Angeles Times venture is yet another example of a journalistic organization looking to tourism to save the day. Beyond expanding revenues, the trips offer an extra benefit to star reporters — "free" travel.
Another major media company is getting into the travel business. The aim of Los Angeles Times Expeditions is to extend the publication’s journalistic brand while providing an alternative source of revenue in light of declining ad sales.
The program will be officially announced July 16, when the booking website goes live. Trips start in early 2018.
“Los Angeles Times journalists have a wealth of experience, traveling the world and telling some of the most compelling stories of our time,” said Times Editor-in-Chief and Publisher Davan Maharaj. “This travel program is another way for us to present our journalism, connect with readers and share a deeper understanding of the world around us.”
Lawrence Ingrassia, LA Times managing editor, was inspired to initiate the program thanks to a trip he took with New York Times Journeys. According to Ingrassia, “We had been looking at ways to bring our expertise to the table by focusing on the experts we have on staff and what our readers are interested in.” In developing the program, Ingrassia says, “We sat down with our journalists and brainstormed with the goal of matching expertise and talent.”
To distinguish itself from other players in the field, there was a decision to focus in large part on the arts and creative endeavors. According to Ingrassia, this is a way to “play to our strengths and create a real experience connecting with the journalism.”
Director of Editorial Events Tanya Erlach works with journalists to find new avenues, like special programs and seminars, to expand The LA Times reach. The travel project is new to her portfolio. The basis for designing the custom small-group trips, according to Erlach, is figuring out “what is the our take on this…what is unique to the LA Times?” Then, ideas start germinating, sprouting from journalists’ inside access and network of contacts.
Themed trips will be accompanied by journalists and experts who will share first-hand knowledge, insider tips and behind-the-scenes access. For example, fashion editor Marques Harper is leading a trip to Northern Italy including stops at artisan workshops, designer studios and fashion schools. Randy Lewis, who has covered music for the LA Times for more than 35 years, is leading a behind-the-scenes trip to the New Orleans Jazz Festival. An exploration of World War II-era art theft, inspired by the movie Woman in Gold, will be headed up by staff writer Deborah Vankin.
The nuts and bolts of the design and planning process are carried out by Academic Travel Abroad. For more than 65 years, Washington, DC-based ATA has provided educational tours for museums, think tanks, alumni associations and conservation organizations. It has also worked extensively with National Geographic, Smithsonian Journeys and The New York Times.
According to ATA Executive Vice President Chase Poffenberger, “For us, one of our main challenges is protecting each brand. We want to make sure that our partners take ownership of the ideas, in order to keep portfolios as distinct as they can be.” Poffenberger and her team developed itineraries for LA Times Expeditions that “speak to its readership, draw from its expertise, and celebrate its long tradition of being at the center of the cultural, political and social conversation in California.”
The breakdown–ATA plans the trips, maintains the reservation center and handles other back office management operations. ATA also has a tour manager along for every ride to take care of logistics. The LA Times is charged with marketing. After all, as Poffenberger notes, “they have a daily communication platform with the audience.”
Ah yes, the marketing angle. The LA Times has a built-in marketing outlet–itself. It’s Southern California top media platform, with 4.5 million print and digital readers. Through print and digital ads, newsletters and an extensive email list, the publication can market the tours in ways similar products can’t.
Moreover, it’s not just a California audience The LA Times is dreaming of. “We can promote across all Tribune publishing platforms,” says Erlach. Among those platforms are several major newspapers, including The Chicago Tribune and The Orlando Sentinel.