Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

*InsightWhere do travelers get an idea of which cruise line to choose, or even the idea to cruise at all? One traditional source has been consumer magazines, and especially Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler.

The glossies make cruising an aspirational vacation, but both of them are in flux. Travel + Leisure is being sold by longtime owner American Express to the venerable magazine publisher Time, Inc., while Conde Nast Traveler has jettisoned its veteran editor and appointed a new one; last week, according to reports, nearly half of its editorial staff was dismissed.*TomStieghorst 

What does their future hold?

In the cruise universe, the two high-end publications are perhaps best known for producing "best of" lists that give bragging rights to the industry.

Silversea Cruises, for example, has a page on its website that notes it has been named best small ship cruise line nine times by Conde Nast Traveler and seven times by Travel + Leisure. Conde Nast Traveler polls its readers about their preference in small, medium and large ship categories, and river cruises are ranked as well.

Both also publish a list of top travel agents.

Beyond recognition and editorial focus, the magazines are marketing vehicles for cruise lines trying to reach their customers. They're particularly valuable for smaller lines that can afford a page in one of the two magazines but don't have the budgets to afford national television ads, a la Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International.

Costa Cruises, a niche player at this point in the U.S. market, advertises almost exclusively to consumers in Travel + Leisure.

The divestiture of the American Express Publishing Corp. appears to have little to do with travel and everything to do with finance. In announcing the sale to Time, American Express said new banking regulations "limit our ability to engage in nonfinancial activities."

The acquisition follows a 20-year relationship between Time Inc. and American Express Publishing during which Time Inc. has provided management services support to the company.

Although Time is being spun-off from parent company Time Warner and faces its own issues, it isn't expected to significantly change the editorial mission of the American Express magazines after the deal closes in the 2014 fourth quarter.

The direction of Conde Nast Traveler appears less certain, after the dismissal of Klara Glowczewska, who had been editor in chief since 2005.

The new editor, Pilar Guzman, comes from Martha Stewart Living, and is said to be steering Traveler towards softer, shorter lifestyle stories. Major changes aren’t expected to hit print until early next year. 


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