“Most travel magazines don`t reflect the reality people experience when they`re traveling,” says Chuck Thompson.
For instance, they never write about the honeymoon on which the husband was completely distracted by a gorgeous topless sunbather at his hotel. Or the bizarre merchandise hawked to air travelers in the SkyMall catalogue. Or the kitschy trip to Liverpool to walk a few kilometers in the boots of the Beatles. Or the guy who lives full-time in a remodeled 727. Or the vacation that went so badly it ended a relationship.
So when Thompson was named editor of Travelocity - a bi-monthly magazine that debuted in September, spawned by the online travel-planning Web site of the same name - he decided to do those kinds of offbeat, democratic stories, to make it “entertaining, funny, edgy—a travel magazine for people who hate travel magazines.”
And that audience, Thompson posits, is potentially huge. “If you look at the statistics, at least 100 million Americans travel each year. Yet the combined circulation of every travel magazine is about five million. So 90-95% of the people who participate in this huge industry are not reading travel magazines.”
The reason, he thinks, is that “most of them are aimed at a luxury traveler, who can go to Paris and stay in a 400-dollar-a-night hotel and eat a 200-dollar meal.” Even the airlines in-flight magazines are “geared toward the business and first-class cabins.”
Whereas Thompson, 37, believes there`s a “new travel culture,” spearheaded by the type of people who book their trips online. The type who travel at various price points, even within the same vacation. Thompson uses himself as an example: “I went to New Zealand for ten days, and stayed a few nights in government-run cabins for $5 a night—an `adventure vacation.` Then with the money I saved, I shelled out $180 a night for a hotel in Auckland and splurged on dinner, so I was a `luxury traveler.` That`s how people travel these days.”
So, flying in the face of the conventional wisdom, Travelocity mixes stories for the adventure traveler, the budget traveler, the business traveler, the high-end traveler—and the hip traveler: “We`re the only travel magazine to illustrate a story promoting Southern California with a photo of [deceased rapper]Tupac[Shakur],” Thompson asserts.
He`s also used humorous writers like Joe Queenan and regular columnist Jack Boulware (founder of The Nose), and started columns about extreme travelers, love and travel, and expatriates. And, feeling men are underserved by the genre, he`s featuring a sports-related story each month, like a list of golf courses in Ireland or a last-minute guide to attending the NCAA basketball tournament.
Thompson stresses that he likes travel magazines: “When a writer takes you to a place you`ve never been, there`s nothing better. But I don`t like the `voyage of personal discovery,` introspective navel-gazing travel writing—`I went and did this great thing and you didn`t.` “
Thompson, 37, is a veteran of the genre. He grew up in Juneau, Alaska, a city approachable only by airplane; he recalls going for two or three-year stretches where he never left town. “People talk about cabin fever, but it never bothered me.”