There was a thread of conversation during our annual Travel Editors Roundtable that was left on the cutting room floor, but that I think is important to share with you.
The editors were expressing some frustration at the process of building out the digital extensions to their brands, complaining that their management did not always appreciate the complexity of building for multiple platforms and pointing out that their digital products would need to be more than simple replications of what was already being done in print and on the Web.
Thus far, however, much of what has been produced has relied on repurposing existing content. Conde Nast Traveler's editor in chief, Klara Glowczewska, said her publication had launched a "Best of Italy" app, which she described as a digital "book-a-zine" comprising a refreshed version of 1,000 pages of the magazine's Italy content from the past 10 years. It is, she said, currently the top-selling travel app, adding that it's the type of product that can be regularly updated if it remains successful.
National Geographic Traveler's editor in chief, Keith Bellows, said he would soon launch a similar project of recycled and updated material titled "50 Places of a Lifetime."
Bellows went on to describe what he said was an essential component to the perfect digital brand extension: a product that is continually updated and expanded by its community of readers. USA Today's leisure travel editor, Veronica Stoddart, called that concept "the Holy Grail."
Stoddart said consumers' expectations for timely destination content were quite high and that saying "It's been refreshed in the past six months" is not going to cut it.
"It's got to be real time," she said. "We're up against Yelp [a Yellow Pages-style site that includes current information and customer reviews on everything listed]. We need real-time devices that can help someone who says, 'I need to know right this minute.'"
The editors' aspirations for the directions that their publications might be headed raise a fundamental question about the future of travel periodicals. We're in an era in which a premium is placed on currency and consensus, when anything less than "right now" is considered past its sell-by date and where the wisdom of the masses is valued above that of a lone professional observer.
By the end of the second decade of this century, will there be a place for the type of thoughtful travel essay that might require months of incubation between conception and publication? It's one thing for a daily newspaper like USA Today to focus on up-to-the-second coverage, but will the editors of these monthly magazines need to reposition their brands and become, in essence, digital guidebook publishers, their editorial voice simply adjoined to a chorus of community input?
I would like to think not. Glowczewska pointed out that the first step in trip-planning is the spark that inspires a person to travel. That might be why her repurposed "Best of Italy" is a best-selling travel app.
Travel editors (like travel agents) possess an uncommon ability to communicate the soul and excitement of a destination in a way that propels millions of people around the world. Raw data, aggregated commentary, community sites and quality destination information all have their place in making a trip successful, but without a high-quality set of travel magazines reaching across multiple demographics, the industry would truly be missing its books of genesis.
Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.