Travel-mag category grows congested

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Travel magazines, famed for advising readers how to get more legroom on airlines, will soon find the newsstand as cramped as an economy-class seat.

Travelocity, a joint venture between the 4-year-old Web site and American Airlines Publishing, hits newsstands Sept. 5. On Oct. 31, Expedia Travels, backed by Ziff Davis Media, will debut. They'll join a field already packed with established travel magazines.

"The increased competition is good, and daunting," said Dawn Drew, VP-publisher of the category's third-largest title, National Geographic Traveler. "It's a crowded field right now, and we know the business is changing."

Other top titles include American Express Publishing's Travel & Leisure (circulation 960,000), Conde Nast Traveler (768,000) and Hachette Filipacchi Magazines' Travel Holiday (653,000).

UNDERSERVED MARKET

"We always felt the market was underserved," said Arthur Frommer, editor in chief of Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, which was introduced in 1998 and acquired last year by Newsweek Inc. The magazine raises its rate base to 400,000 in January.

The new kids on the block, by leveraging brands of top travel Web sites, hint at a new age. But observers are not convinced they will deliver much that's different.

Travelocity's rate base -- the circulation guaranteed to advertisers -- is 250,000. It will be based in Fort Worth, Texas, and publish six issues a year with a launch budget of about $5 million. While its site is the leading online travel brand, its publishing partner has no prior consumer experience.

"What we have is a database of 21 million people, and we know their shopping and purchasing habits," said Mike Stacy, Travelocity.com's senior VP-consumer marketing. He said the magazine is less about the "aspirational" tone of the upscale travel titles and more about "destinations where our users go and travel to."

"It's clearly targeted younger" than established titles, said Gene DeWitt, CEO of Optimedia International, New York, "and that's the key." The leading travel titles' median reader is fortyish.

The 96-page launch issue, with features on California, Croatia's Dalmatian coast and outdoor adventures in Pennsylvania, has 26 ad pages. Advertisers include Ford Motor Co.'s Hertz Corp., Hilton Hotels Corp. and Holland America Line Westours.

LUXURY VS. UTILITY

Ziff Davis Media's Expedia Travels stresses luxury over Travelocity's utility.

"We are an upscale travel and Internet lifestyle magazine," said Publisher Kathleen Foster. "We're going to create a new marketplace," she said, just as "In Style did with a seemingly saturated market of women's fashion." Expedia Travels will include coverage of food and wine as well as travel.

Its November-December debut issue will have a rate base of 200,000, and, Ms. Foster said, "a minimum" of 50 ad pages out of 144 total pages. Advertisers include British Airways, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide's Westin Hotels & Resorts and Volkswagen's Audi of America. Though Ziff Davis would not provide specifics, its launch budget -- not surprisingly because of its upscale positioning -- will be larger than Travelocity's.

"Expedia's pages look like something out of Saveur," said Mike McHale, group media director at Optimedia, referring to the lavishly designed food title. But he added "the [travel] category is one of the fullest out there." And it hardly lacks for beautiful books. Despite issues of differentiation, said Mr. DeWitt, both new magazines are going after the "next big target" of "net-centric, young, affluent people."

"Are they going to be able to do this?" he asked. "Who knows?"

Travelocity has a print campaign underway, created by ad agency Hybrid, Dallas. Expedia Travels, which ran a limited trade campaign earlier this year from BigMouth, San Francisco, plans another trade campaign closer to its launch.

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