When American Airlines Publishing and Travelocity.com announced plans in May to create and launch Travelocity magazine, the two firms had 22 million reasons to believe they could find a passionate audience for a publication that brought together the worlds of destination writing and online travel guides.
While most consumer magazines start with an editorial concept and turn to various lists to locate the appropriate readers, the development of Travelocity magazine worked in reverse. The bimonthly publication started with a database of 22 million registered Travelocity.com users that could be drilled down to its target circulation base — 250,000 — and desired reader profile. Then it designed an editorial product to appeal to that audience. Within four months, on Sept. 5, the magazine launched.
“We determined that we didn't need a very big piece of [the Travelocity.com database] for our magazine to be successful,” said Rick Morrison, publisher at Travelocity magazine, Dallas. More specifically, the publication needed to reach just 1.1 percent of registered Travelocity.com users to make the projected numbers work.
To determine which 250,000 of the 22 million users would best fill its circulation rolls, the companies created a detailed reader profile. Morrison said the publication identified a target audience distinct from the readers of more traditional travel titles like Conde Nast Traveler and American Express' Travel & Leisure, which skew toward upscale females in their mid to late 40s.
The Travelocity magazine audience, he explained, is more male than female and considerably younger, with a target age range in the mid to late 30s. They have a household income of more than $75,000 annually and a proven history of making travel and other purchases on the Internet. They also have college to postgraduate degrees and are more frequently married, without children, than single.
“Once we had the demographic and psychographic profiles of likely readers, we went to Travelocity's database,” Morrison said.
But that profile produced several million potential readers, so the companies dug deeper into the Travelocity.com customer files. To whittle down the numbers, they turned to the old direct marketing model of RFM. Readers were selected according to the recency of their online purchases (broken into four strata), the frequency of their purchases and the dollar amounts spent.
When they found the 250,000 targeted readers, American Airlines Publishing and Travelocity.com developed a trial subscription offer that gives them three free issues. When the trial run ends in February, the publishers will try to convert the readers into paid subscribers. The cover price and annual subscription cost currently go for $3.95 and $14.95, respectively.
Morrison refused to divulge what the projected conversion rate is or what discounts might be offered to hold on to current recipients. He did say that the magazine's longer-term goal is to reach a paid circulation of 300,000 by 2003. After the first year, the publishers plan to evaluate whether a bimonthly is the best frequency or if a monthly might be a better fit.
The magazine is being counted on to imbue the Travelocity brand with an offline persona, with the editorial content focusing on people, places and things behind travel destinations. The September/October cover stories range from an in-depth review of California travel destinations to a feature on Croatia's Dalmatian Coast to guides on finding affordable hotels and online fares.
For readers who seek more information about the companies or places featured in the stories, the articles provide colored keywords with corresponding Web addresses at the bottom of the page. The first issue references more than 120 Web addresses on its editorial pages, Morrison said.
Charter advertisers include British Airways, Sol Melia Hotels & Resorts, Advantage Rent-A-Car, Chase Manhattan Bank, Bose Corp., American Airlines, Planet Feedback, Yahoo Travel, iExplore.com, Hilton Hotels and Resorts, Holland America, American Airlines and more.
To promote the publication to the ad industry, Travelocity magazine took out trade magazine spots in Advertising Age and Brandweek. It also purchased banner ads on popular search engines and portals to reach other consumers who book their travel online.
While Travelocity magazine is the first to reach this group, its reign as the only show in town will not last long. Archrival Expedia.com is working with Ziff-Davis to introduce its own bimonthly title in November/December. Called Expedia Travels, the magazine will debut with a controlled circulation of 200,000 readers and offer a similar mix of online and real-world travel content.
The retail online travel market that both magazines are targeting appears to be significant, according to a recent study by the Travel Industry Association of America. The group reported that 52 million people visited travel Web sites in 1999 for information on their trips.
In 1999, Travelocity.com reported online gross bookings of $808 million, while Microsoft-owned Expedia.com reported online bookings of $725 million, according to estimates by research firm PhocusWright Inc.