When Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour tapped Pilar Guzmán to lead Condé Nast Traveler last September, it was clear that a more stylish sensibility was coming to the sleepy brand. There was even speculation that the monthly would toss the motto “Truth in travel” that has embodied the expert, objective travel reporting that’s been a central tenet to its positioning since Harry Evans founded it in 1987.
That tagline will remain. But there are other changes afoot. The magazine has reversed its longtime policy barring contributors from accepting media rates on travel. (It will not, however, allow editorial trips in exchange for coverage.)
And with the revamped March issue hitting newsstands next week, Guzmán’s editorial vision will be on full display.
With a surplus of travel news and advice on the Web, Guzmán is shifting the book’s focus away from typical travel journalism toward lifestyle, in hopes of differentiating it from the pack. The March cover features a close-up of model Christy Turlington, shot by fashion photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.
“We’re getting stories from stylists, photographers—people who are creative and have great taste,” Guzmán said. “Anyone can get the definitive guide to Berlin somewhere else, but what you can’t get everywhere is a tastemaker or influencer giving their unique take on the trip.”
Ad sales are being steered by Condé vet Bill Wackermann, who led a similar—and widely viewed as successful—repositioning at Bon Appétit. He also launched a marketing campaign for Traveler last fall.
“The magazine has needed a refresh for some time,” said George Janson, managing partner and director of print at GroupM. “There’s enough hard travel news online that adding some pages devoted to lifestyle coverage doesn’t seem like it would be a major turnoff.”
Targeting the luxury space is smart as the travel category can be fickle, added Janson. “Conversely, luxury and beauty advertising has been exploding over the past few years and plays to Condé’s strength.”
The focus on style appears to have helped with advertisers. After declining 4 percent in 2013, ad pages grew 11 percent in the first quarter of this year versus the same period a year ago for a total of 230 ad pages, per the company (though, it’s worth pointing out, rival Travel + Leisure also was up 11 percent in ad pages in Q1). Fashion and luxury goods have been especially strong, with Coach, Elizabeth Arden and Tag Heuer all coming on board in the March issue. In the second half of 2013, when Guzmán was making incremental tweaks, newsstand sales rose 44 percent to 32,970 on a total circ of 822,826, per the Alliance for Audited Media. It’s unknown how readers will react over time. “Magazines should take calculated risks and explore new product offerings for the next-generation consumer,” said Robin Steinberg, evp, MediaVest. “The challenge is doing this successfully without alienating the current core consumer.”