Thursday, 20 December 2007

Mindless Poseurs at the International Herald Tribune Mother-ship

Thanks to a reader in the blogosphere for tipping me off to this interesting piece from Arthur Frommer Online.

Mr. Frommer has taken a pretty dim view of "last weekend's New York Times travel section, and then spread out over part of seven more pages. Its headline read: "The 53 Places to Go in 2008." But instead of citing culture, history, natural wonders, political interest, or interaction with people, as the primary reason for its 53 geographical choices, it clearly implied that the arrival of upscale deluxe hotels was the main reason for visiting most of its nominees."

Mr. Frommer is not happy:

"If you, like many, are not interested in ultra-costly hotels, is there anything for you to read in the travel section of The New York Times? Precious little. I wonder whether any major editor of the Times scans those pages or is even faintly aware of what that section has become. As someone with a regard for travel, who looks upon travel as a precious birthright of our generation, I want to protest against what a new team of mindless poseurs have done to the once-esteemed travel pages of our leading newspaper."

I'm sorry, but I can't find the link to Mr. Frommer, and anyway, he's just got to be quoted in full because the IHT riffed from the NYT piece on December 10, 2007.
The 53 places to go in 2008 December 12, 2007

Over to you Mr. Frommer:

"St. Lucia? You go there because "big-name resorts with $1,000 rooms are on the way."
Verbier, in Switzerland? It "will get decidedly more upper class" when Richard Branson's latest chalet-hotel opens, charging "as little as £35,250 a week, well over $70,000."
Courchevel in the French Alps? Developers are upping the ante with "rustic-chic apartments starting at ... $1.95 million."And so it read on nearly all of the seven pages of its travel section. You went to Tunisia because it is undergoing a "luxury makeover" that will attract "well-heeled travelers;" to Laos for its "seriously upscale" hotels; to Prague, where the youth hostels are "being squeezed by luxe hotels;" to Munich for "cushy living;" to Playa Blanca in Panama where a "tres chic beach club" of Miami is opening a gated resort; to Rimini, Italy, currently drawing "style-conscious Romans to its?designer hotels;" to Kuwait City ("opulent hotels"); to Easter Island acquiring its "first luxury resort;" to Virgin Gorda, where a new resort will offer "weekly rates starting at $12,500;" or to Itacare, Brazil, visited by "celebrities and the elite of Rio de Janeiro."In no fewer than 34 of the 43 destinations listed in its printed travel section (the other 10 appeared online), luxury living was singled out as the obvious draw of the destination. The words "luxury," "upscale," "high end," "Ritz-Carlton," "lavish," "well-heeled," "ultra-exclusive," "high ticket," "chic," "upper class," "posh," "opulent," and the like, appear either repeatedly ("luxury" and "luxurious" are big favorites) or at least once in the great majority of write-ups; and the more noble goals of travel, a learning experience that expands understanding, are mainly dismissed in favor of the pleasures of discos and designer hotels."

Well said.

I have to say I didn't even read the IHT piece because I knew I couldn't afford any of them anyway, and any where, in any list, of places to go in 2008/before you die/win the lottery/whatever are AUTOMATICALLY OFF my list of places to go for the precise reason that I am going to meet the "mindless poseurs" who read and write this rubbish.

I think Tyler B. had a similar list which I naturally skimmed then skipped for much the same reason and which included best bars and riveting info such as "best in-hotel gym."

Spare me.

But the IHT advertising department will be thrilled because when the show this type of copy to IHT SUPREME-LUXURY-MEGA-LOADED-CASHED-UP-WITH-RUSSIAN PETRODOLLAR-INCOME ADVERTISERS they go absolutely mad for it, and the luxury resort/watches/fashion advertising comes flying through the window.

How many IHT readers are or will be in agreement with Mr. Frommer, and how many will simply not understand what on earth he is talking about?

This has always been the IHT's central business problem: balancing who its readers ARE with who its advertising department WANT them to be.

How to square that circle is not so easy, because:
a) most of the Paris newsroom privately believes most of the readership is like them - modest income American expats;
b) the international advertising community want indigenous senior business decision makers at large companies for readers;
c) the circulation department just want to sell copies to whomever they damn well can;
d) the editor thinks the paper is read by the most powerful and influential people in the world (which it is, but who unfortunately do not buy large network computer systems or make decisions about which airline their government will use).
e) the strategic brains at the NYT know the world through visiting places on the list Mr. Frommer is so critical of, during their one one-week overseas vacation per year.

So what to do?

The problem is known as brand management, and the IHT, frankly, is completely at sea, has been for years and will continue to be so until someone in NY wakes up, smells the coffee, and realises that this baby ain't going to fly as a profitable business proposition without a lot more smart people and ideas on the job.

What we're seeing with this type of copy and the new back of the book concentration on travel and 'luxury' is an attempt to win advertising from new advertisers and be less reliant on the typical base of the IHT's potential advertisers - those wanting to reach international senior business decision makers. Who needs the latest corporate campaign from UPS when we can get enough pages from Rolex and resorts in St. Lucia?

The problem becomes that the newspaper, for readers, begins to fall between two stools.

It isn't the general interest read that provides the broader business perspective for senior international business decision makers and it isn't quite yet the newspaper of 'mark' (rather than record) to be seen with tucked under your arm at your St. Lucia resort.

Making the transition from something that never was (a newspaper of record for international business people - the FT did and do own that) to something that might still not deliver enough revenue (the newspaper for the luxury gang) is pretty tricky stuff.

I've always felt it would take the NYT about five years to realise some of these structural problems (which someone should have worked out or explained to them before they bought the IHT 100%), during which time they would pour just enough money in to make it better but without coming up with some really smart strategic thinking that would save the paper.

And by which time it would be too late and they would either then sell it to a vanity publisher or just accept that the paper is a cost of doing business for their foreign news desk and leave it at that.

We'll see.....2008 is going to be quite a year at the IHT.

Another thought: I thought Americans and American expats were supposed to be feeling the pinch from the fall in the value of the dollar.

Not according to the elitist travel editors at the IHT/NYT.

No comments: