Travel Books: "It" Destinations, Innovative Designs, and Web Content, Too [6]

It's spring! Whether you're casting about for a way to sate your wanderlust or pondering which titles to recommend to customers looking to fulfill their travel fantasies, you're covered: travel book publishers are busy tracking hot destinations and publishing books designed to please daring adventurers and armchair travelers alike.

[7]Some trends BTW noted: blue is the color at a couple of publishers; "it" destinations include Greece, Turkey, China, Cuba, and Hawaii; and web-based content options are on the rise. In addition, travelers who delight in city-centric guides that are small enough to avoid being "I'm a tourist" semaphores are going to be very happy.

Lonely Planet keeps tabs on travelers: where they've been, where they want to go, and what they think. Brice Gosnell, regional publisher for the Americas, said the company's new Bluelist books were born of a continual influx of traveler and staff feedback. He explained, "People are always writing in to say 'This is cool, but this is better.' We like to share this information, so travelers can have more unique experiences."

Bluelist debuted in 2006; the 2007 version is out now, and Bluelist 2008 will be published in October. "It will help people get a sense of hot spots on the horizon, and features feedback and suggestions from travelers and staff," Gosnell said. There's a Bluelist section [8] on the Lonely Planet website, too, featuring user-posted content on everything from "Hidden Gems of South Africa" to "Best Places to Hear a Tale."

At Avalon Travel Publishing, blue is important in a different way. Marketing Manager Hannah Cox said the company has redesigned all of its Moon guidebooks: a vivid cobalt is the cover-color of choice, and a new logo has been implemented. "We wanted to visually tie together all the different Moon guides," she explained.

Cuba is a popular destination for Moon, said Cox (a former bookseller at Diesel, A Bookstore in Oakland, California). She explained, "Moon Handbook Cuba sells well and is getting great exposure. We just sent the author to Seattle and Vancouver, and 200 people came to each event!"

In April, Avalon's Rick Steves imprint is publishing Rick Steves' Guide to Croatia and Slovenia 2007. Cox said, "Croatia is an untapped, beautiful destination. The Balkan War has ended, and tourism in this area is coming forward. It has a lot to offer, without the crowds travelers are likely to find in Italy or Prague."

[9]Michael Spring, publisher and vice president of Frommer's Travel Guides, concurred: "Croatian tourism is booming, and Eastern Europe travel is surging as savvy travelers seek the undiscovered and unspoiled -- at affordable prices. Our Frommer's Eastern Europe is out this spring."

Linda Cabasin, editorial director at Fodor's, added that "Hawaii is a hot spot -- and it's a destination about which Fodor's is expanding its coverage." First editions of Fodor's Big Island of Hawaii and Fodor's Kaua'i, on sale May 1, will complement Fodor's existing Hawaii, Oahu, and Maui guides.

Cabasin said another paradisiacal spot, Greece, "is so popular now that travelers need to book trips rapidly. The country is still reaping the tourism-related benefits of the 2004 Olympics, and it is perceived as cheaper than other parts of Western Europe."

Lonely Planet's Gosnell agreed: "Hawaii doesn't seem to stop -- how can those islands take on more visitors? We've been seeing a big increase in Greece, too. European countries tend to go through a cycle, in terms of popularity. Turkey's been big for the last year ... it's a safe alternative to the Middle East, and Greece is fulfilling some of that, too. Morocco is becoming more popular as well, for the same reason."

Gosnell added that China has been "huge" for Lonely Planet, and he concurred with Cox about Cuba's popularity. He said, "Once Castro dies, no one knows what will happen -- there is a sense Cuba will be open to Americans, and that will change the country's whole feel. So, if you want to get a sense of where Cuba is now, you've got to go soon."

Katy Ball, U.S. publicist for Rough Guides and DK, said of China, "DK published our first guide to China, an Eyewitness Travel Guide, a year and a half ago -- it's been a big seller, as has Beijing & Shanghai, out in January. There's that combination of exoticism and familiarity. And, there are lots of tourists there, but you're still in a genuinely different place."

Latin American destinations are growing in popularity, too, according to Spring, "as Americans seek value for their dollars and interests shift from tan lines to ecotourism and sustainable travel." He noted that Frommer's is "responding with guides this July to Chile, Ecuador, and Argentina."

[10]Karen Cure, the editorial director of travel at Globe Pequot Press, added that, in terms of top destinations, certain countries will always be popular: "People are buying guidebooks to the same old wonderful places: Paris, London, Rome, Spain, and so on." However, she's noticed a trend toward specialization. "There's a growing market for niche books: more sophisticated travelers are thinking 'I'm going to Tuscany or Provence' vs. 'I'm going to France,'" she said.

In the domestic-travel arena, in addition to Hawaii, Fodor's Editorial Director Paul Eisenberg said national parks are "perfect for families planning summer vacations, adventurous types, and retirees." Fodor's National Parks: Complete Guide to National Parks of the West, which includes trail maps, hiking information, and driving-tour routes, goes on sale June 5.

Ball agreed that national parks are a top destination: "There will always be a push to explore your big backyard. In fact, Rough Guides is publishing our first guide to Yellowstone, The Rough Guide to Yellowstone & the Grand Tetons, in June. It might be nicer to visit in the fall, when people like to stay closer to home because of time and money crunches."

When it comes to the physical aspects of travel guidebooks, publishers are focusing on format: they're honing the presentation of their city guides, in response to reader feedback requesting greater portability, increased ease of use, and maps ... lots of maps.

Globe Pequot's Cure said, "A lot of people are coming out with, and a lot of people seem to be buying, the small city guides -- an antidote to the 600-page tome. There's something for everybody: some people want all the information, while the small books satisfy people's needs for just the facts, ma'am."

She is excited about Globe Pequot's Where series of smaller-sized guides to "destinations that draw visitors from all over the world." The first books are eight titles on four cities: Orlando, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, with a Shop guide and an Eat guide for each city.

Cure said, "They're 3"x5" and horizontally oriented, so the spines will stick out as far as all big books' spines ... they won't get lost on the shelf. The books themselves are vertically oriented and open like a reporter's notebook."

And, she revealed, "The piece de resistance is the pop-out maps. When folded, they nestle into the book. So, when you're in the city, you have a discreet little book -- rather than a big map that essentially says 'rob me.'" Four cities will be added to the Where series in 2008: Paris, Rome, Miami, and Las Vegas.

[11]Cabasin said Fodor's Pocket Guides series is being revamped as well, with an upcoming first edition of Fodor's Pocket Puerto Rico leading a number of new editions. She explained, "These compact guidebooks are just like Fodor's Gold Guides, but in a smaller, more portable size." Another pocket-size series is Fodor's 25 Best: "Guidebooks with foldout map that offers the 25 best things to see and do, stay, and eat."

Lonely Planet has reformatted its city guides, Gosnell said, because "for short breaks, people don't need as much information, and may already have a sense of what they want to do when they get to the city. The guides go a bit deeper to help travelers have a certain type of experience, or to say 'When you look at this attraction, think about this,' so travelers can engage with it."

In addition, Lonely Planet's Best Of series is relaunching in a new guise: Encounter Guides, which have a different look and format, and, Gosnell explained, "An editorial principle that's closer to who we are as a brand: it's all about engaging in the local community and local culture."

Each four-color small-format book has a pullout map. "It's our first series with a map, based on traveler feedback," he added. "They're a little bit shorter than you see in traditional guidebooks; travelers told us they want something that fits in a back pocket or purse."

The Encounter Guides will begin to publish in May (London, Paris, New York, and San Francisco), and will continue over the course of a few years, replacing the existing Best Of books.

[12]Avalon's Cox said that Moon Metro Guides are "sleek and city-oriented, too, with pullout maps and a slender size" that makes it easy to hold in one hand. There's a laminated foldout map for each neighborhood, with a brief description of each neighborhood on the front flap of each map.

Spring said the Frommer's portable, full-color Day by Day guides -- which feature large, waterproof foldout maps -- "not only list the best, but tell people how to see the best in the smartest, most time-efficient way."

Frommer's also is publishing Pauline Frommer budget guides, developed by founder Arthur Frommer's daughter; destinations include Las Vegas, Disney World, and Paris. There's also an MTV guides series "for a hip new generation of younger travelers." Spain, England, and France are first up in that series.

Spring added that, in celebration of the company's 50th anniversary, Frommer's is publishing a facsimile of Arthur Frommer's Europe on $5 a Day, first published in 1957. (Booksellers can get a free copy by telling the publisher [13] about an experience they had selling or using a Frommer's Travel Guide.) And the U.S. Olympic Committee has named Frommer's the official guidebook publisher for the 2008 Beijing Games -- the Day by Day Beijing guide (plus Summer Games supplement) will be published in November.

[14]Ball, of Rough Guides and DK, concurred that pocket-sized guides are enjoying time in the spotlight. She said, "Our DK Pocket Map and Guides, due out in April, are the size of a slim wallet. They're not meant as a replacement for the actual guide, but as a convenient tool."

In addition, DK has created the Top Ten series of smaller-format guides covering topics such as things to see in the Louvre and the best restaurants in Hong Kong. "They're good if you're tacking on a pleasure trip to a business trip or perhaps to a place you've been before. They have maps on the inside cover, too," Ball said.

She emphasized, too, that whether travel content is online, in a larger guide, or presented in a tiny colorful one, options are key to travel publishing. "We offer three different sizes of products. For example, travelers might buy an Italy guide, a Florence guide for the hotel room, and use the pocket map and guide to walk around. It's not impossible to use all three."

And in an era where multi-tasking has become a veritable contact sport, traveler publishers are definitely on to something. Sure, there will always be explorers who like just one trusty guide. But for those who require more variety of focus and format, the ever-growing range of content, destinations, and delivery methods -- plus the exciting trend toward colorful pull-out maps -- is a traveler's delight. --Linda M. Castellitto [15]


Options for Tech-y Travelers

In addition to offering more compact city guides, publishers are catering to the tech-savvy traveler who likes the idea of accessing trip-centric information online and/or via iPod, Blackberry, and the like.

Rough Guides offers podcasts [16] about different cities, plus podscrolls: a pared-down version of what's in a particular guide. Rough Guides has digital maps, too, and both Rough Guides and DK offer e-books.

DK has a new website feature [17] that allows users to compile their own guides. "There's a strict limit on page count, and you can have it bound and mailed to you with a personalized cover," Ball said. She added that the personalized guides are not intended to replace print guides: "We want them to be a supplement [to the books]."

At the Fodor's website [18], Fodor's Travel Wire runs stories on travel trends, news, and tips. Restaurant and hotel reviews are available, and there are forums for talking with and getting advice from other travelers.

Rick Steves has podcasts for tech-savvy travelers, too: Avalon's Cox said he "put together walking tours of Paris [19]...he'll take you through the Louvre, Historic Paris, and other locations." Avalon also offers podcasts [20] in concert with the new edition of Road Trip USA. Each one features route information and travel tips.

As for Lonely Planet, Gosnell said that, in addition to the company's Bluelist web presence, "We have a new booking service called Haystack [21], through which Lonely Planet authors write reviews and post photos." The company also is exploring ways to provide on-the-road content (for iPod or Blackberry devices) to U.S. customers. "In Europe," Gosnell said, "We're licensing content to Sony PSP, which is used as an on-the-road device there."

Frommer's hosts weekly podcasts, and has an Events Listing [22] that features daily happenings, from concerts to marathons, from around the world. The site also has interactive maps, and Spring said Frommer's soon will add 10 city tours, in partnership with Audible.