Consumers Union to cease travel letter

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YONKERS, N.Y. -- Consumer Reports Travel Letter, which over the years spearheaded controversial reports on everything from the service provided to consumers by travel agents to rating travel Web sites, is slated to publish its last issue in January following a decision by Consumers Union to discontinue the monthly publication.

"It was popular with our subscribers. We had a good renewal rate. We liked it," said Joel Gurin, executive vice president of the nonprofit Consumers Union, but that wasn't enough to sustain the newsletter.

"There was great difficulty bringing in new business particularly in the wake of 9/11," he said.

The 17-year old, 16-page publication accepted no advertising, but had 116,000 readers who paid $29 for a one-year subscription, $49 for a two year.

Additionally, Gurin said, the Internet emerged as a competitor.

"We had seen over time that it was a little more difficult to bring [new subscribers] in, I think largely because of the fact that so much information is available for free on the Internet," he said.

"But after 9/11 we saw a real significant drop in the response to direct-mail for new business. After that, we felt we just couldn't sustain it."

Nevertheless, Gurin said, Consumers Union remains "very interested in covering travel."

Reports typically found in Consumer Reports Travel Letter, such as those comparing cruise cabins and airline seats, likely will find a home in its sister publication, Consumer Reports magazine, Gurin said.

The reports also might appear on Consumer Reports' Web site, www.consumerreports.org, which has more than 1 million paid subscribers.

"We really see this as a very important consumer area," Gurin said. "And we do want to be there and we plan to be there."

Gurin said Consumers Union would contact the newsletter's subscribers in December "to offer them some really good options in terms of turning their subscription over to other publications. We are talking with several publications that may want to offer themselves to our subscribers. We are just trying to nail that down."

The newsletter, known for its features comparing travel products also delved into sometimes controversial studies.

For instance, in June, it published a study on the six largest independent travel Web sites that found Expedia and Travelocity provided consumers with the lowest air fare.

In May 2001, Consumer Reports Travel Letter caused a stir among travel agents with a report that contended agents often fail to provide complete information on low fares because of airline overrides.

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