By Laura Barkema, MLIS
It is no secret that the spread of covid-19 around the world has affected the publishing industry in a myriad of ways. But no industry has been affected more than travel, and by extension, the published travel guide industry. With flights and cruises having all but stopped and international travel almost nonexistent, the demand for new and updated travel guidebooks has diminished. How have these publishers pivoted during this time of uncertainty and what does the future of travel guide publishing look like? There are many questions, and few definitive answers. But let us look at the trends we have seen so far.
Just as return-to-office dates have continually moved back, so too have publication dates of most international travel guides. In the first couple months of lockdown, publishers began pushing publishing dates to the end of 2020 and early 2021. However, as the pandemic numbers surged, especially within the United States, and many countries around the globe restricted Americans from entering their countries, publishing dates began to slip further into 2021 and even into 2022 and beyond. Several guides, mostly annual updates to guides of the most popular locales, have been cancelled altogether. It seems that publishing a new edition in a year in which there is virtually no travel is pointless and likely unprofitable.
DK Eyewitness Travel cancelled most of their DK Top 10 guides scheduled for publication in 2020. Birnbaum cancelled all their updated 2021 Disney guides since, though Disney Parks in California and Florida are domestic destinations, they are among the most crowded tourist spots on Earth. Lonely Planet is the publisher to move the most guides to 2022. They even cancelled several “one-off” titles, such as Armchair Explorer and The Savvy Travel Handbook. Other publishers have chosen to go ahead and publish some international guides but have focused on those that haven’t had an update in a few years, such as Lonely Planet Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania, last released in 2016. Even a slightly outdated guide post-pandemic is better than one five years old.
Though it is difficult to keep up with how each publisher handles the situation, one trend remains clear, and that is an increased emphasis on domestic travel guides and those specifically featuring national parks, scenic road trips, and hiking. An NPD BookScan report stated that print unit sales for domestic (US) travel guidebooks increased by nearly 80% from April to May. This shift in focus was explored in a Publishers Weekly article from July 2020:
“In the coming months, travel publishers are putting out books for domestic travelers, with a focus on pandemic-friendlier locations and activities. These guides to hiking trails, national parks, and scenic drives have special relevance during this era of aviophobia and social distancing, of course. As a bonus, they may also help American readers reacquaint themselves with their country’s natural wonders.”
A few examples of domestic travel guides released in 2020 include Fodor’s Best Weekend Road Trips, Moon Washington DC: Neighborhood Walks, Historic Highlights, Beloved Local Spots, and DK’s USA National Parks: Lands of Wonder.
With covid-19 vaccines on their way, when will “normal” travel resume, and how might this impact travel publishers going forward? Will there continue to be an interest in local travel titles, or will sales drop off and international titles be in higher demand than ever as borders reopen and global travel restart?
This year has been chaotic, and much of the future post-pandemic is unknown, but with our Travel Continuations Standing Order Program, your Collection Development team here at Ingram can help alleviate some confusion surrounding the travel publishing industry. Enroll by clicking here.
You can also find our “Travel” subject list, updated quarterly, on ipage.