Travel Books Won't See Any Vacation Time This Summer

Article excerpt

The 1990s have not been kind to Travel & Leisure. As recession and the Persian Gulf War buffeted the travel industry, the American Express Publishing Co. title suffered its share of problems. Attrition among American Express cardholders caused the magazine to miss its rate base last year, precipitating a cut from 1.1 million to one million. A fuzzy perception of the faltering leader's identity among advertisers--plus rumors of an impending sale--contributed to a loss of more than 200 ad pages between 1990 and 1992.

Adding insult to injury, its arch-rival, five-year-old Conde Nast Traveler, surpassed the 22-year-old T&L in travel ad pages for the first quarter of this year.

But things may be looking up for the entire travel category: Ad pages edged up 2.9 percent, to 2,966, through March of this year, compared to the same period last year, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Last year saw a total of 11,059 pages in the travel category.

Having completed a graphic overhaul of the magazine and a management agreement with Time Inc. earlier this year, T&L expects to burst out of its early-nineties doldrums despite the departure in May of publisher Alexandra "Sandy" Golinkin for Allure. The new-look title hopes to leverage Time Inc.'s cross-media opportunities, as well as its circulation and marketing staffs, to improve its own economics.

But its competitors aren't standing still, either: Conde Nast Traveler is planning ventures into electronic publishing; Reader's Digest Association's Travel Holiday has set its sights on more non-travel ad categories; and National Geographic Traveler plans to boost its visibility with 10th anniversary celebrations planned for next year.

Despite the obstacles, Time Inc. and T&L executives are bullish on the future of travel magazines. "We believe that as a generation of Americans becomes a lot more affluent, they will concentrate more time on leisure activities," says Time Inc.'s Dan Brewster, the new CEO of the American Express Publishing Co. "And there is an enormous demand for travel information that can be supplied through a variety of channels like books, as well as electronically." (The management deal calls for Time Inc. Ventures to run the day-to-day operations of T&L, Food & Wine, Departures, the book group, Sky Guide and custom-published media for a yearly fee and an undisclosed percentage of increased profits.)

Brewster (most recently an associate publisher of Life) has issued a six-month moratorium on any changes until he reviews the operation, searching for efficiencies to be gained in circulation, printing, sales and distribution. But other executives provide a hint of what the Time Inc. link could entail.

"Testing our new covers and logos would have cost thousands of dollars and taken about a month," says Golinkin. "Time Inc. (using its People cover lab) did it in one day and at no cost." Costs for syndicated research services also could be slashed, newsstand distribution improved, and multi-title ad buys, such as hooking up Fortune with the business traveler edition of T&L, are other possibilities.

The first place of the attempted turnaround appears successful, as agency media directors heap accolades on the redesign. "It looks terrific, and it whets the appetite for travel," says Larry Cole, executive vice president and U. …