Travel Mags: Show Me the Sunny

Like food magazines, travel titles are also showing staying power in the face of Internet competition. It's hard to know for sure, but like food magazines, their vitality may have something to do with their target markets. High-end readers who actually use the magazines to plan vacations are obviously a desirable demo. Meanwhile, readers who use the mags aspirationally, for vicarious getaways, may simply get more pleasure from luxuriant photo essays about the jet-setting good life than online directories of travel agencies or Web booking services--which still tend to have a utilitarian, stripped-down feel.

Indeed, it's worth noting the travel mags that are still succeeding are all unabashed purveyors of "travel porn"--heavy on photos, with a typical spread juxtaposing private cabana-mansions and their crystal-clear swimming pools against the backdrop of the turquoise sea beyond. With this kind of content, Conde Nast Traveller has seen newsstand sales rise 8.7% while subscriptions remained basically flat with a 0.2% increase, according to the most recent FAS-FAX report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) covering January-June 2006. Meanwhile, compared to January-September of last year, in the first nine months of 2006 ad pages rose 6% and revenue jumped 11.1% to $102.5 million, according to the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB).



Travel + Leisure, a property of the American Express Publishing Group, is also having a good year, at least from an advertising perspective. While subs and newsstand sales were basically flat in the first half of 2006, PIB data for the year to date has ad pages rising 14% to 1,317 and revenue up 19% to $121.9 million. Like Conde Nast Traveller, Travel + Leisure doesn't stint on opulent photo spreads with high production values.

By comparison, more sensible titles aren't doing nearly as well. Despite its idyllic name, Endless Vacation is a budget travel title focusing on trips in the continental United States, paying more attention to nitty-gritty details of logistics and cost than Conde Nast Traveller and Travel + Leisure. Endless Vacation is holding its own in circulation, but its PIB figures are plummeting, with ad pages down 33.8% and revenue falling 16.6%. The equally sensible National Geographic Traveler saw subs fall 2.9%, ad pages 11.1%, and revenue 6.2%. And while Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel expanded its subscription base by 11.5% to 578,396, advertisers appear to be ambivalent, with ad pages falling 14.8% and revenue 2.1%.

There's an interesting endnote: although ABC figures aren't available, in-flight magazines are enjoying an ad boom. Although consumer titles might raise their nose at these custom publications, the basic value proposition is undeniable: of all "captive audiences," airline passengers have to be the most constrained, claustrophobic, and content-starved. In-flight personal TV on the JetBlue model may change this, but for the time being, in-flight mags are sitting pretty in the seat pocket in front of you.

According to the PIB, in January-September 2006 Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine of United Airlines, saw ad pages and revenue both jump 37% to 851 and $42.7 million, respectively. Southwest Airlines Spirit is up 15.7% in ad pages to 1,211, and 28.3% in revenue to $37.5 million. Finally, US Airways Magazine took off in the first nine months of 2006, with ad pages up 115% to 1,193, and revenue up 46% to $33.7 million.

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