Consumer travel publications change strategies during virus crisis

The Covid-19 crisis presents a quandary for editors of
consumer travel magazines: With borders closed and people being told to stay
home, what is the right way to approach travel inspiration?

Each one is finding its own way to respond, but what seems
to cut across most is a focus on “armchair travel.”

Conde Nast Traveler recently launched the “Ultimate Guide to
Armchair Travel” and is “leaning into offering inspiration for those dreaming
about their next trip,” while promoting the idea that travel is a “state of
mind.”

Travel+Leisure editor in chief Jacqui Gifford published a
letter ahead of its upcoming May issue in which she wrote, “For now, travel is
about armchair escapism. It is and always will be about emotion and heart.”

Of course, encouraging armchair travel does not necessarily come
naturally for publications that write about the real thing, but Afar has made adjustments
regardless.  

“Now we have a lot of coverage about things you can do from
home to continue to inspire your wanderlust,” said Afar travel news editor Michelle
Baran. For example: taking a trip around the world in foreign films, doing
virtual tours and trying out recipes from different cultures.

Armchair travel is not the only approach to the current
crisis. 

Conde Nast Traveler launched several new franchises in
response to the current reality. Its “Here, Now” column spotlights coronavirus-related
stories such as a piece on the Spanish fitness instructor leading workout
classes on his roof in Madrid and Chinese nurses who continue traveling to care
for others. Conde Nast said it is writing about how people around the world are
“coping, creating joy, and getting through this together.” 

Another initiative is “What It’s Like to Be a Travel
Industry Worker Right Now.” Conde Nast has spotlighted a flight attendant, a
tour guide, a cruise ship captain and a hotel housekeeper, revealing their
anxieties, concerns and on-the-ground experiences. 

In its May issue, Conde Nast will feature an essay by travel
writer Pico Iyer on the importance of traveling to places that have had
setbacks, like Australia after the bushfires and Egypt after a terrorist
incident. 

Jesse Ashlock, Conde Nast Traveler’s U.S. editor, said, “Now,
of course, the conversation is about traveling again to a whole world that is
experiencing crisis. And that is a theme we will return to a lot in upcoming
issues and on our other platforms.”

Conde Nast’s July issue will be “radically different” than
what was imagined, Ashlock said.  

“What it will do is celebrate the universality of travel in
a non-time-oriented way,” he said. “It’s not about travel in the summer of
2020. We will gather a lot of bold-faced names to talk about why they are still
a traveler, which is also a social [media] campaign we [recently] launched. It
is something we’re exploring in a lot of different ways and one of several
initiatives that we’ve embarked upon as we figure out how to shift course.”  

Under Ashlock, Conde Nast had already shifted to focus more
on travel “as a force for good,” something he realized matters more now than
ever. The April issue, which was put together before the U.S.’s travel
lockdown, is the magazine’s first with the “force for good” theme, with content
focusing on leadership, sustainability and community.

Baran said that Afar has also been making strategy changes
on the fly throughout the crisis. “As things have unfolded, our approach just
kept having to change. We’ve had to tear up the script several times,” she
said. 

Afar is helping readers cope by adding some online
humor pieces such as “How to re-create your canceled Europe trip at home,”
which includes setting the alarm to 4 a.m., when it’s morning in Europe. 

“We feel like people need a dose of fun and laughter right
now,” she said. 

Conde Nast, which last week unveiled its annual list of Top
Travel Specialists in the April issue,
plans to leverage its network of travel advisors in more ways, Ashlock said. 

During the current crisis, he believes they are a valuable
source of information for readers. The brand is already using advisors’ intel
and tips on navigating the crisis, such as via an Instagram Live conversation
with Italy travel specialist Andrea Grisdale to discuss the coronavirus
pandemic in Italy. 

“As time goes by, I hope to see them as a more prominent
part of what we’re doing in print and in all aspects and expressions of the
brand,” Ashlock said. “We couldn’t do a lot of our stories without them and
readers should be aware of that and look to book travel with specialists as a
result of the good intel that they’re getting from our magazine. … We see them
as an extension of our editorial family.”

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