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Are there too many travel magazines?

I lunched the other day at Patroon in Manhattan with Conde Nast Traveler's Editor Tom Wallace and Publisher Lisa Henriques, the two of them just returned from a world travel conference in, of all places, Glasgow, Scotland, and asked them what they thought.

The reason this was on my mind was that a few days earlier I'd heard from Dan Brewster of American Express Publishing Co. that they're testing a spinoff of their very successful Travel & Leisure to be called Travel & Leisure Golf. And I'd just lunched at the Four Seasons Grill with Don Welsh, who's cut a deal with travel maven Arthur Frommer and in January will launch (as a quarterly at first) a magazine called Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel.

The Conde Nast folks were very upbeat, having just celebrated 10 years of publishing, and I asked them for their take on the size and potential of the category and just how they would rate the competition (so this is hardly an unbiased report but a reflection of what Tom and Lisa are saying).

Not surprisingly, they rate their own Conde Nast Traveler No. 1 in the category. They consider Travel & Leisure the closest runner-up followed by National Geographic Traveler and finally Travel Holiday.

Do we need another golf-travel mag (after all, doesn't my boss Rance Crain already publish one, Golf & Travel?) and didn't Fairchild a couple of years ago come out with a budget guide to travel, especially last-minute offers, deals and schedule changes? Tom and Lisa didn't want to get into speculating on that but preferred talking about the sheer size and scope of the field.

According to Editor Wallace, travel is the third biggest industry in the U.S. behind No. 1 food (which I suppose is agriculture and food marketing in all its phases) and automotive.

And in the world, says Publisher Henriques and Editor Tom both, travel early in the next millennium will be a larger business than food. Publisher Henriques, quoting Travel Weekly, said travel is responsible for 10% of the world's gross product. Tom Wallace noted that travel already "generates one trillion dollars in revenue worldwide."

Now here's what Dan Brewster is saying of his latest project, Travel & Leisure Golf. "We hope to publish four issues in 1998. Having just returned from hosting a group of travel industry execs on the links in Scotland, I can report that the enthusiasm for T&L Golf is high."

The dummy that Dan sent me is a handsome rascal with some excellent bogus copy by Jim Gaines and an old piece by Updike and some wit from Bob Garfield (yes, the Advertising Age Garfield!). As for the parent Travel & Leisure, Dan notes in passing that the October issue carries 201 pages of ads, up a rollicking 52% over the 132 pages in the month last year.

Now to Don Welsh, one of the more successful entrepreneurial magazine publishers of the past decade or so. Prior to that, as you know, he was publisher of Outside and president of Us. And if we haven't heard from Don recently, it's because since he sold his Welsh Publishing Group to Ron Perelman's Marvel Entertainment three years ago, he's been limited by a non-compete clause. That's now run its course and Welsh is back.

How he found out I'm not quite clear, but Don realized that although the Arthur Frommer name was legally tied up for book publishing, no such barriers existed on the magazine side. So he went to Mr. Frommer and cut a deal. The result? Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel.

Curtis Circulation will distribute and Welsh hired Jacob Hill as exec VP and publisher and Stuart Turner as financial officer. Mr. Frommer, who's written 178 travel guidebooks over a 40-year period, will be editor in chief. Initial distribution will be a quarter million copies.

The dummy cover Welsh showed me promises, in bright reds, yellows, blues and greens: "100 money-saving tips that can change your travel life .*.*. the cheapest places on earth .*.*. Las Vegas on $0 a day? .*.*. Where kids eat/stay free .*.*. Swapping homes

.*. . This summer's 40 best vacation bargains .*.*." and so on.

As Welsh says, "Our magazine will be the definitive resource for individuals choosing and planning their vacations within particular budgets. We'll offer pragmatic advice on how people can afford their dream vacations without breaking the bank."

Don says the magazine, if it works, should cut across age categories, appealing to the young who don't have big bucks and to the canny oldsters who want to save a dollar as well as to those in between who like a bargain.

Everyone seems to have his own set of industry figures and Don Welsh says it's a $467 billion travel biz of which 72% is spent on annual family and other vacations.