In Travel Technology, Comfort Leads to Confidence in Booking

Mobile Travel

Apart from the advent of the Internet itself, no phenomenon has both captivated and terrified travel executives as has the rise of mobile. Its impact continues to evolve – but the implications are profound.

Phocuswright’s The U.S. Mobile Traveler in 2017 report provides a complete view of the mobile traveler in 2017, including who they are, how they plan and shop for travel, how they use their device in-trip, and what it all means for travel brands and the industry overall.

What Travel Brands Should Understand About Mobile Travelers
The mobile traveler population has been growing each year as more travelers own smartphones and use them to plan and book travel. Today, two in three U.S. travelers have shopped or booked either air or hotel on a mobile device (smartphone or tablet). Nearly half of those mobile travelers are under 35 years of age. But don’t count out older travelers – they too are driving the move to mobile. Mobile travelers are getting more comfortable planning on mobile, even as the population gets a little older. And with comfort comes confidence: 69% of mobile travelers feel they can find the same flight and hotel info on a smartphone as on any other device; 66% of mobile travelers are comfortable planning and booking a vacation only with a smartphone.

Mobile Travelers Take More TripsAnnually

When asked if travel is a very important part of one’s lifestyle, mobile travelers in the U.S. were more likely to “strongly agree” than non-mobile travelers. Plus, they take more trips and spend more on travel.

For mobile travelers, travel is a big deal. And that means they should be a big deal for travel brands. Dig deep into who the mobile traveler is, explore mobile traveler trend, and more with The U.S. Mobile Traveler in 2017

How travel operators achieve digital leap? (part 2)

How travel operators achieve digital leap? (part 2)

How we discover, dream, and plan vacations has changed radically as print has given way to digital and desktop gave way to mobile. Lost in much of this are the gatekeepers — legacy print brands on newsstands and in bookstores — which were slow to adapt: How travel operators achieve digital leap? (part 1)

CONTENT MATTERS

Other travel magazines weren’t immune to the downturn. Vacations are one of the first things sacrificed by families during an economic downturn, and it follows that travel companies will be hesitant to purchase pricey print ads during these periods.

Travel + Leisure dropped from 1,481.11 ad pages in 2008 to 967.48 in 2011, according to The Association of Magazine Media. By 2013, both magazines would reorient their coverage towards luxury consumers in an effort to become a luxury lifestyle publication and attract higher spending advertisers. For these consumers, travel is a lifestyle instead of a yearly escape.

Travel Category Trend
Source: MPA

“I think what we’ve seen is that travel has just become more central to people’s lives,” said Travel + Leisure’s Lump. “I think that’s partially what has allowed us to grow, but I also think it’s allowed us to have more varying touch points with the consumer and lifestyle. I think it’s not so much that we’ve moved just moved away from core travel it’s that all the elements that people play, that have never touched travel before, have become closer to travel than they used to be.”

Part of this shift has involved more general interest clickbait stories on the Web, in a stark contrast to the long features and deeply researched packages print travel media is known for. The readership of magazines at large has shifted to older and more affluent readers. Research from the American Magazine Association shows that devoted magazine readers are more likely to go on vacations than those who prefer other types of media.

The use of mobile devices to view travel content is also on the rise, perhaps at the expense of print and digital magazine content.

There is the pain point of figuring out an internal work flow that functions across platforms. Journalists, writers, and content creators often have specialized skillsets, so asking one to write a story, create a listicle, take photos, and film compelling videos about a trip is a major challenge.

“We just started working more efficiently that way and it really, it’s painful to integrate digital and print,” said Guzmán. “The plays are different, the workloads are different, the story ideation is different. In doing this, there’s this huge cultural shift that is exciting and difficult.”

Magazine Media 360 - 2015 Travel Category Trend

NOT JUST MAGAZINES

Newspapers, as well, began to shutter their travel sections in order to save money.

In 2012, USA Today eliminated its print travel section, moving travel coverage to its Life section instead, mimicking the pivot of travel magazines to more of a lifestyle positioning. Dozens of other newspapers, ranging from The Los Angeles Times to The Washington Post stopped publishing print travel sections as well.

USA Today also tried to pivot by acquiring content and online travel booking companies, like the struggling Tripology in 2013 which it used to sell qualified leads to travel agents.

Newspapers adopted the wrong strategy at the time; instead of doubling down on quality content that would remain useful to readers in years to come, they either decreased quality in a move toward online clickbait or shut down their travel sections completely.

“Newspapers took the single most misguided step I can imagine; if you picture an entire newspaper’s content, there is no content that is more reusable in the future than the travel section,” said Spud Hilton, longtime editor of the San Francisco Chronicle’s travel section. “Let’s say I’ve had a newspaper that’s had a travel section for 30 years, and then I decide I’m going to throw all that away because it’s too expensive to run a travel section. If I just take the last five years of those and get somebody to update them or hire an intern, I have 250 weekend escapes that are professionally written and have professional photography. That can become an app, website, book, or any number of things that can be used again. Those newspapers were out and out stupid to bury that archive never to be seen again.”

The San Francisco Chronicle was perhaps uniquely well-suited to adapt to changes in digital media; it operates one traditional newspaper site and SFGate.com, which is a scale play that often attracts readers with lighter news.

“I could have written the greatest travel story ever known, and it would not have gotten on the cover of the traffic oriented site because a Swedish bikini team saved a kitten from a tree; which is going to be more popular?” said Hilton. “The Chronicle is a good example of what has happened and what sort of needs to happen which is separating out what is popular from what is good. The difference between what’s popular and what’s good, based on news judgement, should make the difference in the long run. Travel, honestly, has always been some of the weakest journalism there is, and unfortunately that’s because we assume people only want to be fed the cotton candy. It’s our job to give them something good, but also figure out how to draw them in in a way they want to read.”

Guidebooks, as well, were hit extremely hard by the economic downturn, with print sales falling by 50 percent overall. This slump touched off a wave of consolidation in the industry. Google acquired Zagat for $151 million, and proceeded to integrate Zagat restaurant information into its Maps listings after rebranding the company as Zagat Travel. Google also bought Frommers for $23 million, eventually selling the company back to Arthur Frommer without its social media accounts.

Lonely Planet was acquired by BBC Worldwide for $210 million total in 2011 in a series of transactions beginning in 2007. In 2013, BBC sold off Lonely Planet to a U.S. billionaire for just $75 million.

Today, Lonely Planet has emerged from the fray as the most successful guidebook brand in the world, while also expanding into the digital space with apps and video content. By investing heavily in its digital presence while growing its library of guidebooks and other print titles, Lonely Planet has been able to grow while other guidebook companies haven’t.

“We’ve aggressively rebuilt our mobile web and main web platform, that’s obviously been ongoing for a few years,” said Lonely Planet CEO Daniel Houghton. “We’re also excited about what’s happened with the guide mobile app, we’ve aggressively expanded the cities from 30 to north of 100 and we’ll continue to grow. We’ve got a big year planned. We’re still expanding our content coverage with more books and types of content, more coffee table trade and reference titles, titles far beyond just guidebook content.”

Lonely Planet’s quarterly U.S. magazine is based off of Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel Magazine, whose assets were acquired by the company in 2014 for $2.4 million, and the company operates 11 other magazines around the world. This multi-platform approach seems to have benefits in consumer travel media, especially since it appeals to travelers across many different levels of the travel marketing funnel.

“We have a core audience that is a fan of our blue spine guidebooks, and we release different collections like our best of series,” said Houghton. “It’s more about having a different product based on the kind of travel you want to do. Lonely Planet means a lot of things to a lot of different people; some people may have never bought one our books but watched the tv show, some people may have just subscribe to the magazine and don’t have an awareness of the other platforms. The most important piece has been authenticity. It’s great content that helps you discover incredible places, we’re very proud of that but also excited to create content to inspire people when they’re not on the road. We all don’t get to travel all the time.”

Long-term Trends - World Travel Guide Sales 2010 - 2016
Long-term Trends – World Travel Guide Sales 2010 – 2016

Newer travel magazines seemed to fare better during the downturn. Afar, which launched in 2009, has grown its circulation and digital usership over the same period that legacy magazines struggled.

Long-term Trends - World Travel Guide Sales 2010 - 2016 (5 countries)
Long-term Trends – World Travel Guide Sales 2010 – 2016 (5 countries)

“We started with the print magazine in 2009, we really felt like it was a really strong kind of way to plant a flag in the sand and determine what our point of view and perspective on travel is going to be,” said Julia Cosgrove, editor in chief of Afar Media. “We were pretty early to the experiential travel movement and we held true to that mission and to that focus ever since then. I really see print as the place where you give people this great travel inspiration where you tell them … you give them great storytelling, you give them provocative photography, you give them whole design, and it’s this nice lean-back experience in magazine form. When digital comes in, it’s really all about service and providing resources to travelers to help them travel better.”

Afar magazine rate 2010 - 2017

Afar grown its traction among U.S. consumer travel magazines. Yet due to the move away from print advertising by travel brands, a more robust digital presence gives magazines like Afar the ability to appeal to advertisers with cheaper and more diverse advertising packages.

Afar magazine rate growth 2010 - 2016

Dozens of other niche travel magazines with sleek design and longform reporting, like Cereal, Suitcase, Boat, and others, have filled the gap as bigger travel media brands have largely worked to grow their digital scale. Yet these publications don’t really have an established business model behind them, despite their slick production and contemporary aesthetics.

Most print publications also have branded trips available for purchase online, with ads appearing in their print editions as well, representing another revenue stream in an industry searching for the way forward.

At its core, the struggle of travel media companies to adapt to the digital is tied to the habits and desires of consumers themselves. Not many readers will take the time to sit and read a lengthy story on a destination anymore, opting instead for a quirky but flimsy story that entertains them or a bevy of user generated reviews.

How travel operators achieve digital leap? (part 1)

How travel operators achieve digital leap? (part 1)

How we discover, dream, and plan vacations has changed radically as print has given way to digital and desktop gave way to mobile. Lost in much of this are the gatekeepers — legacy print brands on newsstands and in bookstores — which were slow to adapt to the changing media landscape.

Two decades ago, travelers had limited choices when they wanted to research their upcoming vacation. They could open their local newspaper’s travel section, buy a glossy magazine, call a travel agent, request brochures from a resort, or even experiment on their dial-up modems with slow and confusing online booking tools.

Travel magazines, newspaper travel sections, and printed guidebooks represented the most trusted and popular way for travelers to find inspiration for their upcoming vacations and bring crucial information on the road during a trip.

Over the last 10 years travel magazines have shrunk in size while the global guidebook market has been halved as consumers have moved to websites and apps for their travel fix. Today, consumers can turn to TripAdvisor, Google, Yelp, online forums, social media, YouTube, and countless other content sources.

Consumer travel brands have had trouble cracking the digital space, for reasons both institutional and determined by the shifting media marketplace.

Print consumer media, in particular, has been most powerfully disrupted. As legacy consumer travel magazines withered from a lack of advertising, and staff cutbacks in the wake of the Great Recession, mobile and digital content became more popular among consumers. These brands did a poor job of appealing to readers on new platforms, despite their outsized influence and recognition among travelers.

Why have consumer travel media brands had so much trouble evolving? Skift spoke to editors, marketers, and travel media experts about the past, and future, of print travel media’s digital evolution.

Put simply, print brands were slow to adapt to the digital media ecosystem in ways that other media companies, particularly in the finance and general interest areas, were not. And the effect of abundant, free online content, particularly from sites like TripAdvisor, helped change the behavior of travel consumers while print brands struggled to move online.

“I don’t actually think [print travel media] ceded [authority] to TripAdvisor,” said Barbara Messing, TripAdvisor’s chief marketing officer. “They ceded it to the people, the authority of millions of travelers who post their opinions on TripAdvisor. We create the platform so that people could share. That is the power of TripAdvisor. It’s the community that is our power, not necessarily the corporate entity, and the fact that we created a platform where it was really easy to share, really easy to post photos, and we created it in such a way that people could find what they were looking for.“

Print travel media has gone digital, but not without growing pains. How do you reinvent a business model that has existed for decades, while wrestling with the constant churn and change in the digital media marketplace?

“The single biggest challenge that we face is exactly that,” said Nathan Lump, editor in chief of Travel + Leisure. “And I think successful digital operations are very clear about what they don’t do as well as what they do. There’s essentially a well that has no bottom and so you can’t fill it with everything. You have to be really purposeful about what you’re making.”

THE CASE OF CONDÉ NAST TRAVELER

It can be instructive to look back to the mid-2000s, when it became clear that digital disruption was changing the business model for media companies. Some, like The New York Times, were quick to adapt to the digital space, while others lagged behind. Magazines, in particular, had trouble conceiving of a way to move away from selling expensive print advertising space. Why sacrifice such a lucrative source of revenue, even as readership began to decrease?

At Condé Nast, perhaps the world’s most preeminent media company, the question of what to do with industry leader Condé Nast Traveler was a challenge. First introduced in 1987, Condé Nast Traveler became one of the most visible brands in travel.

It became clear, however, that online booking and travel research was becoming important for consumers in the late 1990s. So Condé Nast launched a new brand, Concierge.com, to house online travel content and sell vacations online through a partnership with Expedia. The editorial teams of Condé Nast Traveler and Concierge.com were completely separate at first.

“Condé Nast had decided at some point that to test the digital audience, they really needed to create separate brands from the magazine brand,” said Peter Frank, who served as editor-in-chief of Concierge.com from October 2005 to December 2009. “So Epicurious became a food brand, and Style.com became fashion. Those had varying degrees of success and attraction for an audience by creating their own distinct personality vis-a-vis their print counterparts. While there are benefits of doing it that way, there are also a lot of disadvantages, mostly that you kept your print teams in their own swim lane and your digital teams in their own swim lane and you weren’t evolving either towards the inevitable future that most of us saw that, you know, print and digital would have to work together.

“At Concierge.com, that was a separate building, a separate business unit, and separate reporting structure, but we shared real estate on the web and that led to inevitable tension.”

It was clear to writers and editors at both brands that there had to be more collaboration between the two sites. Condé Nast leadership, however, was more hesitant and slowed many efforts to better integrate content between them. The scale wasn’t there on the digital side, so it made no sense to move resources towards the digital space when the print Condé Nast Traveler magazine paid the bills through print advertising and advertorial content.

“By 2006 it had become clear that there had to be more synergy between the print and online products,” said Wendy Perrin. “In 2006 I was asked to start writing a blog, The Perrin Post, so that print readers could interact with me online. But Condé Nast Traveler did not have its own website, so my blog was published on Concierge.com—which is where all Condé Nast Traveler content was published. Concierge.com was run by a different staff, in a different building, and it was endlessly frustrating that we had so little control over our online presence.”

While Condé Nast’s travel content was siloed, TripAdvisor had gained traction among consumers looking for travel information. In 2004, TripAdvisor was already the seventh most visited travel site on the web according to IAC, which acquired it that year.

In May 2007, TripAdvisor acquired Smarter Travel Media and The Independent Traveler, bringing a variety of niche media properties under its corporate umbrella. By May 2011, when TripAdvisor was spun off from Expedia, it was serving 50 million unique users a month on its site.

While the Condé Nast Traveler and Concierge.com teams would grow more integrated over time, the economic crisis of 2008 caused major headaches for media companies looking to experiment online. Condé Nast would shutter four magazines and lay off more than 120 workers, as well as reorganizing the staff of its travel brands. Fewer magazines means fewer ad pages, and the need for fewer staff members.

According to The New York Times, Traveler’s ad pages dropped 41 percent through the first eight months of 2009, making it one of the hardest hit magazines in Condé Nast’s stable. Overall, Condé Nast lost about a third of its overall ad pages in 2009.

Condé Nast Traveler’s print ad revenue did rebound, beginning to trickle upwards in 2010, with up and down years followed by solid three to five percent growth beginning in 2013.

How Travel Media Missed the Digital LeapWhat followed is what would become a familiar scene in the media world: shrinking issues, less ad revenue, staff layoffs, and eventually an editorially diminished print product. At the same time that Condé Nast Traveler would have been served by a robust online presence, it simply did not have the resources to develop one.

Frank worked on the print staff of the magazine in the 1990s, and saw the struggles as the publication half-heartedly pivoted to the web. Today, Frank works as a consultant with travel brands developing content for their brand-owned channels.

“Condé Nast Traveler was the authority in travel; we were the journal,” said Frank. “We were the ones who were going out there, saying, ‘Here’s what you really need to see, this is what [these destinations] are really like. We’re going to tell you the unbiased truth. We’re going to take down the sacred cows of the industry because we can and because we should.’ And we got a huge amount of accolades for that. We won awards, we thought, and we were a very successful magazine. But that base in journalism no longer resides in print, that kind of authority for the media no longer resides in magazines, if it resides anywhere.”

By the time Condé Nast Traveler began a digital revamp in 2013, when new editor-in-chief Pilar Guzmán took over, travelers had already been looking elsewhere for years. Eventually, the Concierge.com brand would be completely retired by the company.

“In terms of looking back I think it was really about doing a bit more of a broader goal search about what the brand could stand for,” said Guzmán. “How the mission of the brand would then translate to the different channels, not just the .com but also who we were on Facebook, who we wanted to be on Instagram, etc. And then of course the platforms just keep multiplying.”

Today, Condé Nast Traveler essentially operates one brand with interlocked content across many platforms; a writer researching a hotel for a print feature, for instance, will take photos and notes for use on the web, along with social channels. Other publishers have found success with this model, as well.

There is only one percent reader duplication between its print and web editions, and the cntraveler.com site receives about seven million unique visitors each month, almost ten times its print circulation.