Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Technology and the Travel Guide

Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on our parent site, Publishing Trends.

CubaguideFodors

Fodor’s new travel guide on Cuba.

Not so long ago, one of the first steps to planning an upcoming trip was to go to the bookstore. Once the future traveler picked out where they wanted to go, travel guides helped them research and plan their trip. As with many things in publishing, the internet changed that. With the proliferation of websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other free-to-access review-based sites, consumers seemed to feel less and less inclined to buy books to help guide their travels.

While the rise of digital ruffled feathers across the publishing industry, travel guides took a significant hit. Jon Marcus wrote in the Boston Globe that travel guide sales sunk by 41% in the beginning years of the recession, which is more than double the loss that was felt by overall book sales. Many couldn’t pinpoint why travel guides in particular were hit so hard. Former director of Lonely Planet, Eric Kettunen said, “Many attributed this [loss] to the rise of ebook sales, but that wasn’t correct. It was the ease at which travelers could access destination content online, especially ‘perishable’ info like rates at hotels, prices at restaurants, etc.” While there is a need for perishable information, there is also a need for well researched information, and that’s what travelers began to realize. Slowly, but surely, sales are finally looking up, and that’s due in part to the fact that the physical guide has figured out how to coexist with a world full of free, digital information.

Amanda D’Acierno, SVPand Publisher of Fodor’s, spoke with me about how technology and travel guides can work together: “Print guidebooks and digital resources work in tandem…There’s nothing like having a print guidebook on the ground in a destination – no roaming charges or worrying about battery.” Of course, there’s more to it than battery power. Advances in digital technology have also been very helpful in the production of print guidebooks: “Our digital content complements our print content…We publish eBook editions of our guidebooks simultaneously or before the print edition.” Technology also helps with the agility of updating existing guides. D’Acierno told me, that Fodor’s has “implemented a brand new custom content management system that allows us to be more nimble – not only will we be able to create new print guidebooks and quickly bring them to market, but also develop custom content.”

Digital technology lends a helping hand to the travel guide industry in another way: licensing opportunities. Pieter Van Noordenen, Director of Digital Development at Rowman & Littlefield told Publishers Weekly that they can “easily syndicate to third parties” like weather.com or City-Data.com.

There’s a middle ground between digital and print to be found in the consumer-facing side of ebooks as well. There is room for a stranger’s Yelp review when a hungry traveler is already settled in to their hotel room, but they can check that review against formally published material as well. Bill Newlin, the publisher of Avalon Travel, said in Publishers Weekly that the ebook versions of their guides have “hyperlinked content listings and pan-and-zoom maps.”

While there is a glut of free online information available to travelers, the realization has settled in that just because it’s free, doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile.  “Smart travelers know that this unfiltered information gathered from average folks can’tcompete with selective content compiled by pro writers such as those that work for say, Time Out, Frommer’s, Moon, Rick Steves or Lonely Planet,” said Kettunen.  Another aspect of all the free information out there is that you can never be sure who wrote it, or why. Sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp can be “manipulated by hotels and restaurants,” Arthur Frommer told Publishers Weekly in their most recent look at travel guides. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to know which comments are honest and which are fake.”

But are travel guides truly making a comeback in the face of our increasingly digital age? The best answer to that question is a little. The significant decrease in sales has slowed, and last year there was a 3% rise in travel guide sales according to Marcus’ Globe article.  (It’s important to note that this 3% increase does not include travelogs or travel memoirs, but applies strictly to the guide business. So  perennial travel-related favorites among book buyers like A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson or Into Thin Air would not affect the numbers). 3% is obviously not huge but take against the 41% slide between 2007 and 2012; it is certainly a good comeback.

The travel guide industry rebound from the recession is still ongoing, but it’s clear that this part of the industry has learned to embrace digital technology to make themselves flexible. Travel guides now aim to be agile in terms of the publishing print editions quickly and easily, syndicated content, and ebooks include links to helpful information and maps. Above all, travel guides are here to stay.

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