Endless Vacation Experiences Endless Momentum, Pages, Circ. Rise Amid Travel Downturn

In the wake of 9/11, travel magazines haven't exactly had the easiest time of things. Consumers previously inclined to idly flip through Cayman Islands pictorials turned their attention to the newsweeklies, resulting in precipitous newsstand declines for several of the category's biggest books. And that's to say nothing of the travel destinations and airlines which, following a Steinbrennerian spending spree during the late 1990s, in some cases stopped advertising entirely.

Endless Vacation, however, seems to have bucked the trend. Approaching its 20th year, the magazine ended 2002 up seven percent in ad pages and followed that with a 27 percent jump in 2003. Similarly, circulation has surged to more than 1.5 million, placing it above its four primary competitors in the consumer travel category (Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure). While some of that might be attributable to the mag's circulation model - Endless Vacation remains subscription-only, meaning that it is immune to newsstand trends - that doesn't make the feat of thriving during a difficult travel climate any less impressive.

"We had to fight ten times as hard for everything we got, but we hit our numbers," says associate publisher/advertising director MaryEllen ("Mel") Ullrich, with something sounding more like relief than jubilation in her voice.

Beyond its subscription-only status, Endless Vacation differs from its peers in several other ways. As opposed to a Condé Nast or a Time Warner, EV is published by Resort Condominiums International, a Cendant-owned community of individuals with vacation homes. By virtue of this parentage, the magazine enjoys a loose affiliation with about 3,800 resorts around the globe, meaning that it can often reach coveted upscale readers in places where other travel titles cannot. "Being able to get readers when they're not distracted is a big plus," Ullrich says. "And being able to offer some event and merchandising tie-ins that nobody else can also really helps."

While time-share travelers are among the mag's primary readers, another major audience may be even more important to Endless Vacation's success, especially in the post-9/11 era: so-called "drive-to" travelers, who primarily hit the road in their cars. It goes without saying that the more drive-to travelers a travel book attracts, the more attention it is likely to receive from the Detroit automakers that have shown only sporadic interest in the category. "We've changed our editorial to accommodate this," Ullrich notes, pointing to the regular "scenic drive" features.

Endless Vacation also boasts the highest percentage of readers with children among the consumer travel publications (potentially a good selling point to packaged goods companies) as well as the second-highest median household income. At $80,539, it trails only CN Traveler. Readers spend 48 minutes with each issue (more than with any of EV's competitors, despite the fact that EV tops out at around 100 pages) and the magazine's renewal rate recently hit 82 percent.

While Ullrich believes these numbers have already begun to translate into a wider variety of advertisers, a quick look at EV's January/February issue makes it clear that EV has a ways to go: roughly 85 percent of ad pages are devoted to travel destinations. And while it's only natural for a travel title to rely on its endemic base, it's clear that Ullrich and her team are yearning to diversify.

"Given that our readers are in their 40s, I think we're a perfect fit for all kind of pharmaceuticals," she says. "We really speak to the leading-edge baby boomer, which means financial services could be a good match. And we know from MRI that our readers live a healthy lifestyle, so anything in health and fitness would work." Prime targets include Prudential, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer, Buick and Kodak.

Though Ullrich forecasts 20 percent growth for 2004, she doesn't believe travel magazines are out of the woods just yet, regardless of Wall Street's surge and other positive economic indicators. "Advertisers are still buying later and not buying big schedules," she notes. "It's still a battle." As for changes, EV will likely tweak its design to create what Ullrich calls a "different feel" to its editorial environment. "Visually, I think we need to get ourselves in synch a little more with who our reader is.

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