his month's issue of Conde Nast
Traveler is not graced by seductive photography of one of the
earth's most beautiful locales. Instead, readers are beckoned by
simple text: "112 Best Travel Agents ... Now That We Need Them More
This, in my humble opinion, is a big deal. For a consumer
magazine sold at newsstands, a lot of variable revenue hangs on the
decision of what to put on its cover, and CNT decided that consumer
interest in travel agents will sell more magazines this month than
any enticing destination they could feature.
"I work at a magazine where there's much discussion about
virtually everything," CNT's editor in chief, Tom Wallace, told me.
"There was a lot of discussion about this. But the more I heard,
the more strongly I felt this should be the cover. I'm glad we did
Despite the magazine's penchant for putting high-quality imagery
on its cover ("We have lots of gorgeous photography to choose
from"), Wallace believes that Conde Nast Traveler's role as an
information source is every bit as important to its readers as its
"The travel agent story falls into the category of important
information for intelligent consumers of travel. We think this will
be very valuable."
What were the other contenders for the cover? "There was a story
on Bulgaria that I thought was wonderful -- it's been a while since
I've read a story that has more titillated me. The history,
culture, beautiful architecture, great food, beaches, mountains.
There also was an article about the role of art exhibitions in
Las Vegas that was a candidate, as was "a very nice piece about
adventure travel to Suriname." But in the end, the travel agent
story won out.
"We knew we were cutting against the grain" by featuring travel
agents so prominently, Wallace said.
"This is counter to the 'received wisdom' about the roles of
agents, and we could have put it on the inside. But we wouldn't
have made the point we want to make without the decibel level that
the cover provides."
And the point they want to make is this: "We don't dispute that
travel on line is growing. But even the best of the online travel
operations will tell you that there's a limit to what they can do.
We give examples that show [those limitations], and examples of
what a reputable travel agent can do for a consumer."
A recurrent theme throughout the article is the importance of
relationships -- both supplier relationships and consumer
relationships -- to travel agents.
"If [an agent is] savvy about how the system works and has
personal contacts, they can be used on behalf of clients with whom
they have a continuing relationship," Wallace said. "On line, there
isn't much loyalty. If you get the lowest fare on Travelocity one
time, fine, but if you find it at Expedia next time, you'll go
"As we prepared the article, we realized that for our readers,
and the type of travel that they do, they're better off with a
trusted travel agent. An agent who has a long-term relationship
with you, knows you, your family and your preferences is motivated
to use supplier relationships for you."
As far as newsstand sales go, Wallace won't know how this issue
will compare with more traditional covers until Friday.
"Will it be successful? We certainly hope so," he said.
"All covers are a gamble. With this one, I think the odds are