At the invitation of Travel Weekly,
editors from Travel+Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, Budget
Travel, USA Today, Town & Country Travel, the Associated Press
and Travel Savvy gathered in the Ed Sullivan Room at the Friars
Club in New York to discuss a range of destination-related topics.
How effective are
tourist boards and public relations firms in reaching editors? What
impact do celebrities have on creating buzz for a destination?
Which destinations feel overdeveloped, and which are on the
Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann explored these and other topics with the group, and
discovered along the way which Caribbean island inspires
unflattering comparisons to being stuck in Danbury (Conn.) on Route
202, which destinations will guarantee a lift in newsstand sales
and where these editors plan to vacation in 2006.
note: The original transcript has been edited for length, and the
chronology has been altered to keep dialogue about specific topics
together, even though the topic may have recurred at intervals
during the course of the conversation. USA Today participated by
the ingredients that create buzz for a destination?
Stoddart, travel editor, USA Today: Look at Philadelphia. Its celebrating Ben Franklins 300th
birthday, and theres a huge marketing campaign. The campaign works
because the city is really coming into its own anyway -- its going
through a renaissance. Its right at the top of the list of domestic
Biggs Bradley, editor, Town & Country Travel:
I am blown away by whats available in that
Nancy Novogrod, editor
in chief, Travel+Leisure: Its definitely on the food
Bellows, editor, National Geographic Traveler:
And its on the art map.
Torkells, editor, Budget Travel: Im having trouble with this. Ten years ago, we were all
doing stories on Detroit. Philadelphia is the destination of the
year because theyre having a birthday.
Bellows: Wait a minute.
No, no, no. We did a story on Philadelphia because I think its the
next great American city. Thats where it started. It had nothing to
do with any anniversary. I felt this city was ready for prime
Harpaz, travel editor, Associated Press: Right.
Bradley: Nancy agrees,
Beth agrees, I agree. I mean, theres a confluence of things going
on in Philadelphia, between museums and dining.
Torkells: We do a thing
in (Budget Travel) called Trip Coach, where people write in and we
help them out. No one writes in and says they want to go to
Philadelphia. They want to go to New York!
Novogrod: But they may
want to go to Philadelphia.
Torkells: They may.
They very well may -- and if they do, its because this room has
anointed it very nicely.
Bellows: No, no, no,
no. You dont get it. We dont anoint it. I disagree with that so
Brooke, editor in chief, Travel Savvy: Are we reflecting or promoting?
Bellows: We are
reflecting. I honestly believe that.
Harpaz: I agree (with
Stoddart) about Philadelphia. And I think Atlanta will be the next
Harpaz: A bunch of things happen to create a situation
where a destination gets buzz. Atlanta is putting a lot of money
into tourism, they are branding themselves. But they also have
museums that are unveiling wonderful things. Theres the aquarium
thats supposed to be the biggest in the country. There are discount
airlines going into Atlanta, and its affordable for Middle America.
Certainly an event, or institutions opening their doors, or news,
can swirl all of us toward one destination, but economics plays a
huge role, at least for my readers, and the readers at Budget
Travel and USA Today.
economics plays a big role for all readers, why do some of you
primarily emphasize the high-end?
Bellows: Well, thats
the secret of our business. In an advertising-based industry, you
dont want to promote inexpensiveness ...
Bellows: ... because
thats not what our advertisers want to hear. But the truth is that
no one wants to spend a dollar more than they have to.
Novogrod: Yes. I think
there is the factor of affordability.
One of the great joys of getting to a place first is that it costs
Travel+Leisure absolutely does inexpensive, I do inexpensive, yet
we still try to make it look luxe. (To Torkells) And you guys have
gone from zero to 60 based on the fact that Americans want to have
great experiences for the least amount.
Torkells: My feeling is
that we all want to go to the same destinations, but some of us
dont have as much money, or if we have as much money, we just dont
want to spend it. I guess thats why this hunt for the hot
destination rings a false bell for me. I dont want to go to the new
restaurant in Philadelphia -- I want to go to the Taj Mahal!
(quietly) God, Im going to be struck dead by
Bradley: Youll be
covering it in a year, trust us.
Torkells: But its not
where people want to go. They want to go to Rome.
Bellows: Erik, I agree
with you on some of this. I think that the hip, hot, cool, baddest,
greatest destinations -- people are a little tired of that. Those
lists are devices to sell magazines, but its not what people care
about. What people care about is to know where to go
do you know where that next place is?
Stoddart: There are destinations that
suddenly get buzz for very different reasons. Im thinking of India,
which is the second-fastest growing destination. And why? Its
because of the outsourcing business that is going to India. People
are traveling there on business and suddenly they think, I have a
few days I could spend here. What should I do with my time? Or
maybe the second time they go, they take their family with them.
Business crowds bring leisure business afterwards.
Bradley: India is quite
popular right now for my audience, but for a very different reason.
In the last four or five years, a level of hotel that would attract
our reader was built, and it did not exist before. A lot of
sophisticated travelers were not going to make that trip because of
concerns about food and comfort. Its not always paramount, but it
is in this case.
Novogrod: And always,
there have been people in the fashion world going to India. People
in the art world, the style world. And these sophisticated
travelers come back with incredible treasures: jewelry, fabrics,
antiques. Certain companies -- Taj a bit, and Oberoi -- see the
possibilities and know people are coming there, and they build
amazing hotels. And theres the adventure traveler. The adventure
traveler is not necessarily the one out there climbing rocks.
Theres also the adventurous traveler whos Donna Karans friend,
searching for a new experience.
Brooke: A new
Novogrod: A new Nirvana
-- or a new thing to buy. Were working on a story, on Indian
textiles. Their tourism people did an amazing promotion, one of the
most astounding campaigns Ive seen. Remember those little booklets
they published? Brilliant work. That may have lodged in my mind. I
cant say whether it was a confirmation or an inspiration as far as
the story goes.
Bellows: That new
adventure traveler is the person who wants to fly to India first
class or business class. They want to stay in a great hotel. Then
they want to be taken to a small village where they meet the rug
dealer. Then they want to buy the rug. But the thing is, they want
the genuine, authentic experience, and theyre willing to pay to get
Torkells: That doesnt
sound authentic at all to have someone take you to a rug
Bellows: I dont agree.
You can go there and find someone who can take you into the
mountains. I have a story in the works on just this thing. They
will take you to the guy who will sell you the rug. And it is real,
and when they return, it is what theyre going to talk about when
people come over for dinner.
Novogrod: People are
desperate for discovery, and discovery takes different forms.
Sometimes its going to Guatemala or Libya or Tajikistan, and other
times its going to a familiar place where it suddenly looks like
something is happening. And its not even cool yet, but there are
signs, and you know were all desperate for that -- we all want to
be the first on the block to go there, and we all want to know
something before its been written about in too many other
Brooke: Readers are
looking to travel magazines to guide them. Not place to place, but
experience to experience.
Bellows: Theres the
entry-level market, which is the future. Lets go back to (the
Budget Travel) audience. You have a backpacker audience in there
Torkells: We have a
wider audience. Some people think its the backpacker exclusively,
and some people think its Arthur (Frommer).
Bellows: But youre
talking about people who cant afford to go business class, who want
to stay in a really reasonable hotel, and thats a really big part
of the market.
Torkells: Oh, I mean,
look at the plane. You have eight seats in business class and 70 in
the back. Well, Ill take that chunk of the pie, thank you. I used
to think Budget Travel was very much aimed at the entry-level
traveler, but Ive come to realize after two years that thats not
really who it is. For my readers, travel is their luxury. Its their
No. 1 luxury. This is what they spend their money on, and they
travel like crazy. Theyre going to places I dont dream of going.
They write and say, I spent three weeks riding on a camel in India,
and I think, Good Lord, better you than me. But they are out there.
They want to do it, and they find a way to do it.
Novogrod: I like going
to places that are a little bit on the edge. Its nice to have the
comfort when they have the infrastructure, and great hotels, but
there is also a point when you are almost too late. I went to
Shanghai nine years ago, and then just went back recently for the
launch of Travel+Leisure in China. Not only do they have Gucci and
Prada, they have Marc Jacobs!
Torkells: So it feels
like everywhere else.
Bellows: Which is a big
issue -- homogenization.
Novogrod: We have to
recognize that there is the danger of places blending together.
Bhutan may be an example. Lets see what happens now that Christina
Ong is there, now that Aman Resorts is there. I know that I feel
better about going to Bhutan right now, but on the other hand, is
this the beginning of [too much development]? In Angkor,
(Cambodia), you see it. The roads are absolutely littered with
Brooke: Its like what
happened in Aruba. There was a time when it was just these
beautiful beaches, and was pristine.
Brooke: Jamaicas still
Novogrod: Or Puerto
Rico, where I just was. I remember I was there as a child, when El
Conquistador opened. It was beautiful, and now its like being stuck
in Danbury, (Conn.) on Route 202. Its the worst kind of miracle
Bellows: Heres the
essential ingredient for all of us: We want to be ahead of the
curve, get there before everybody else. But its a fine balance of
preserving and prophesizing. All of us around this table want to
get there first, see it before its seen, and we want our readers to
do that, too. But we know that at the same time, we are, in some
way, contributing to its degradation.
Bradley: The whole
concept of what is responsible, sustainable, ecotourism is
something thats relevant to our readers, even in a place like
Shanghai. I mean, yes, its wonderful to go and be able to eat at
Jean Georges Shanghai ...
Novogrod: It is
amazing. Its gorgeous.
Bellows: Its not budget
Torkells: But is that
why you flew around the globe?
Bradley: My point is
that its wonderful to eat at Jean Georges, its fun sitting in that
beautiful, renovated building and having the sense of the old and
new. Its not for everyone, and maybe not for your
Torkells: Ive never
been to Shanghai. Its a luxury. I didnt see it 10 years ago, Im not
there now, and I may not be there 10 years from now. The point of
view of my reader is: Shanghai -- thats a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Once they go there, theyre probably not going to go
Novogrod: Im not so
sure that its a once-in-a-lifetime now.
Bellows: What we have
now is a baby boom generation thats going to have increased amounts
of time to travel and increased amounts of money to do it. That is
a real market. And what they want are trips of a