Traditionally focused on high-end vacations, the media are increasing coverage of budget travel. In turn, PR pros are discovering a rise in interested outlets.
It's hard to find a better-known name in travel writing than Arthur Frommer, whose guidebooks, magazine, columns, and websites have taught several generations how to get the most out of their vacation dollars.
Yet despite the success of Frommer and a host of imitators, traditional travel journalism has paid scant attention to the budget market for the most part.
"The travel industry is very much like the fashion industry in that a great percentage of the reporters are unrealistic in covering the subject," Frommer says. "Most of their stories are aspirational. But the point I've made all my life is the less you spend, the more you enjoy travel."
Frommer is no longer involved with the magazine Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, which was sold several years ago to the Washington Post Company. But the travel guru says he's currently finalizing a deal for a new travel publication.
Although this new outlet will not be geared specifically toward budget travelers, it will certainly devote coverage to great deals, creating another competitor in the budget space.
But Budget Travel editor Erik Torkells notes that the market is still underserved.
"We did our biggest issue ever in May - and it's because no one else is really paying attention," he says. "Low-fare airlines have made it easy to get to a lot of places, while the hotels are starting to get it because they are launching more mid-priced brands. But the travel magazines themselves, when it comes to deals and bargains, those are just words they put on the cover to sell magazines."
Talking about bargains
Some PR pros, however, disagree that travel journalists typically ignore bargains and deals in their coverage.
"The buzzword in travel right now is 'value' and how do you create it in your offering," says Leslie Cohen, EVP for New York-based Laura Davidson Public Relations, a firm specializing in travel. "So it's not so much about price point as it is about providing a way for a traveler to go someplace that they may not have considered in the past."
Indeed the words 'budget' and 'bargain' can mean very different things to different vacationers. The New York Times' Frugal Traveler column recently ran the feature, "Seeing Paris on $250 a day," an idea that might rankle a Frommer disciple, but that others would find quite practical.
"When you look as these columns, though they may be named budget or frugal traveler, the deal tends to be a lower-priced option at a high-end resort," says Joan Brower, SVP and co-director of the travel practice at M Booth & Associates. "It's all about intelligent shopping."
Lou Hammond, president of Lou Hammond & Associates, adds even the glossy luxury travel publications always include some last-minute package deals and bargains. "Magazines like Travel + Leisure have a value column where they drop in items about six weeks before publication," she says. "So you just have to know who's writing that and when to pitch the item."
Hammond says that there are opportunities to pitch these value vacations on television as well, especially to a morning-show travel editor such as Today's Peter Greenberg.
Targeting various demographics
One myth is that budget travel is almost exclusively a youth market. But M Booth SVP Joan Bloom, who runs the travel practice along with Brower, points to reports indicating that Generation X is now outspending baby boomers on leisure trips.
"Some of the publications aimed at Gen X that focused almost exclusively on budget travel are moving away from that a little bit, and they are writing about travel that does cost more," says Bloom.
At the same time, outlets such as Budget Travel are reaching a surprisingly broad demographic. "We have three main groups," says Torkells. "You have people who are retired and have a lot of time, but not a lot of money. Then you have those with families who suddenly realize that travel can be incredibly expensive with children. Then you have younger people who don't have a lot of money because they have not made it yet, but aren't tied down and, as such, want to travel a lot."
Torkells says his magazine does stories aimed at each of these groups, but adds that the bulk of the coverage appeals to all of them.
"One thing all our readers share is they make travel a priority in their lives and they want to travel smart," he says. "As important as budget is, if you've got ways to make travel easier, that's even more sexy right now."
Pitching... budget travel