By Chris Doyle, APR
I can hear Yoda of Star Wars fame now:
“Serious commitment, Truth is.”
Since the birth of Condé Nast Traveler 18 years ago, its “Truth in Travel” tag-line has served as the actual foundation of the magazine. Along the way, Traveler editors and freelance writers have always traveled incognito to cover travel just as a consumer would actually experience it. Traveler pays full fare and will accept no discounts – unless, of course, there’s a discount rate that’s readily available to consumers.
According to the Traveler, it is the only travel publication that adheres fully to this policy.
During the early 1990s as a public relations practitioner, I worked with many national and international travel publications to “pitch” the adventure travel company I represented then. And, while Traveler was interested in several of the pitches made regarding pioneering destinations, much to my dismay, the magazine simply would not accept any special deals – even though we clearly indicated we had no expectation of editorial coverage. Of course, what we’d hoped for was editorial coverage – publicity.
On more than one occasion, I’d like to think that my pitching to editors there may have led to editorial coverage of certain remote regions. In the end, it led to more affluent consumers interested in exotic destinations that weren’t aware of previously.
Despite the fact that most other publications didn’t have quite the same stringent guidelines, Traveler stuck to its policy.
I came to respect their policy – and their publication even more. It made my job to present the facts about pioneering adventure travel excursions even more critical. It made me work harder. It made our company work harder to ensure 100 percent customer satisfaction for all our passengers. Brook Wilkinson, the magazine’s Executive Assistant Editor, captures the concept perfectly, “You just never know who your client is. Someone could be unassuming and in dirty cargo pants, but might be a CEO.”
When asked about tour operator perspectives once they hear from Traveler’s editorial staff for fact-checking a story post-trip, Wilkinson, said, “At first, tour operators are a little nervous when they hear from us. They often think to themselves, ‘I hope we were on our toes during that trip,’ when responding to questions about the trip. What we’re trying to ensure is that what we’re reporting on is accurate. We’d like to believe they wouldn’t be changing their habits if they knew were going on their trips, but…”
Wilkinson reminds us that the magazine is not exposé oriented. Its approach simply leads to honest coverage. Adding reassurance she said, “I’ve taken trips for years, and I’ve never written a story about a trip that’s been a disaster. We simply report the success and limitations of each experience.” Wilkinson even highlights a specific example where a Traveler writer did an essay on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary II. No one knew who she was. “As in any maiden voyage, there were kinks. She went on board and she could truthfully say it was a fab experience, but there were long lines for this and that and these were the hiccups.” So, it turned out to be a fine story, truthfully told. Consumers wound up better educated about what to expect in such circumstances.
Anecdotal positive feedback from readers about the “Truth in Travel” policy arrives fairly regularly. According to Wilkinson, “When thinking about or planning vacations, often people aren’t yet well informed about the commitment they’re making. They rely on us to provide information on the best operators, hotels, guides and more. They want the best in the business – and they want the truth.”
PR Tips for Working with Condé Nast Traveller
Here are the main things Condé Nast Traveler wants adventure travel organizations to know when it comes to “pitching” stories to the award-winning magazine:
- Traveler is interested in working with and having relationships with destinations, domestic and international tour operators, lodges, resorts guides, and others from different categories. Traveler views these organizations as great sources of information and trends, etc. Traveler’s policy isn’t intended to distance the magazine from these organizations. Just the opposite is true: operators are encouraged to send information to the Traveler to spur ideas – not to offer free or FAM press trips, but to inform the magazine about pioneering opportunities.
- The other part of the Condé Nast Traveler policy most people don’t know: The magazine is completely independent of the travel industry. It is not owned by any company in the industry, therefore, it has no other obligation than to serve its readership.