Traveller takes brave route with ’no freebies’ pledge

New magazines are inevitably launched with hype and hope. But the Traveller, Conde Nast’s glossy new monthly for the well-heeled - which made its journey to the newsstands this week - is important for two reasons.

New magazines are inevitably launched with hype and hope. But the

Traveller, Conde Nast’s glossy new monthly for the well-heeled - which

made its journey to the newsstands this week - is important for two

reasons.



First, it has adopted the policy of its US big brother of taking no

freebies, flouting one of the traditions of travel journalism and the PR

industry which services it. Second, it is assuming that a new niche can

be created for travel titles. This is why the eyes of the publishing

industry are so firmly focussed on it.



Received wisdom, following the collapse of the BBC’s Holidays magazine

last year suggests that dedicated travel magazines don’t work. That for

most people travel sections in newspapers and magazines suffice. But

other publishers suspect the Traveller might be the real pioneer as

happened here with men’s style magazines over the past decade. At least

two rival companies plan newsstand glossies: as one said: ’we know the

advertising is there, the question is the buyers’.



You only have to look at the improved British Airways inflight magazine,

High Life, to see how it drips with financial services and jewellery

adverts.



It too is planning an aspirational travel magazine, for general

sale.



And National Geographic Magazine also scents an opportunity, assisted by

this autumn’s launch of the National Geographic Channel. I think the

Traveller has a real chance. The UK version has been shrewdly

customised, aiming at affluent people in their late 30s and 40s.



Just as well. The markets are very different: half of our holidays are

still packages requiring little independent thought, whereas those

Americans who do holiday overseas tend to be older, have packages

designed for them by travel operators, and value advice.



The key editorial question is whether paying your way resolutely makes

for better copy and advice. Does the phrase ’so and so travelled to

Bermuda courtesy of ...’ mean the writer abandoned all objectivity?

Frank Barrett, now with the Mail on Sunday, was the architect of the

Independent’s principled stand 11 years ago not to take freebies. But

now he does and says it makes no difference. I’m broadly with him: the

key to successful travel writing is good, informative, readable lively

copy, which does not pull punches.



The Traveller assures itself of this with a quiver of top writers who,

as it happens, all had very enjoyable times: Helen Fielding on safari,

Zoe Heller in Amanpuri, Thailand.



Journalists can write gushing copy whether the trip is paid for by their

publication, or a travel company. But I’m in favour of publications

paying, if they can afford it. It certainly makes sense for the

Traveller, since it is aiming at the discriminating reader. But there’s

no need for the travel industry to despair; the magazine seems to have

plenty of space for advertorials.



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