travel publishers pivot editorial

What does a travel magazine do when a global pandemic effectively grinds travel to a halt? They pivot. 

That’s what four editors at some of the top travel publications told Publishers Daily.

All the editors spoken to noted the COVID-19 pandemic catapulted the topic of travel to front page news, across media organizations. “The news became travel news,” said Jesse Ashlock, Condé Nast Traveler’s U.S. editor.

George Stone, National Geographic’s travel editor, said: “Coronavirus has turned a lot of media outlets into de-facto travel outlets.”

When COVID-19 hit, Traveler’s upcoming issue “was going to have a lot of cruises and long-haul travel,” which didn’t fit the current state of travel. Traffic declined in late March. The magazine needed to do an “editorial reset,” Ashlock said. The Traveler team leaned into COVID-19 and travel news coverage, as well as service-driven content that provided people with an escape: inspiration for future travel, rather than more destination-specific content.

Traveler came out with “101 Ways to Travel Without Leaving Your House” and an “Ultimate Guide to Armchair Travel,” among other editorial initiatives.

A COVID-19 travel hub was created on the Traveler site, updated regularly with news updates and stories on the impact of the pandemic on the travel industry. A weekly COVID-19 newsletter was launched. This pivot brought a “strong recovery in April.” 

“Hard COVID19 reporting has gotten tremendous engagement, and so has human interest, softer COVID-19 reporting,” Ashlock said. Engagement went up 20% month-over-month, nearly recovering from pre-pandemic times. Travel news engaged minutes in particular went up 44% month-over-month.

Average time spent went up 28% month-over-month.

Armchair and inspirational travel content engaged minutes was up 21% month-over-month and 26% year-over-year.

National Geographic’s dedicated travel magazine, National Geographic Traveler, ceased its print publication at the end of last year. Travel stories have since moved to the National Geographic magazine, as well as its website and in a dedicated travel newsletter, with 1.2 million subscribers.

When the pandemic hit, Nat Geo Travel pivoted “from reporting on the journeys of travelers to reporting on the journeys of places,” Stone said. It has since launched multiple new editorial series, such as destination dispatches of on-location reporting from Istanbul to Costa Rica, and news coverage of National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage sites.

“They are portraits of popular places as destinations, and looking at how they are contending with this pandemic and all the implications of it. We are reporting on the economic impact, which relates to their annual tourism revenues, the number of jobs dependent on tourism, and the structure of their economy as it relates to tourism,” Stone said.

Traveling tourism represents 10% of worldwide GDP, and is being threatened by COVID-19.

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by Sara Guaglione, Publishers Daily

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