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Choppy waters for travel market
28.02.10 | Victoria Gallagher
The best hope for the beleaguered travel market is for it to “plateau out”, as sales slumped by almost 9% in 2009.
Travel publishing consultant Stephen Mesquita (pictured) made the claim as the latest Travel Publishing Yearbook was released. The report, written by former AA Publishing m.d. Mesquita, is based on Nielsen BookScan data. It revealed sales for the total travel market dropped by 8.9% on 2008 to almost £118.5m. The decline on the previous year is sharper with the travel market falling by 8.09% in 2008.
Mesquita said: “The market is extremely competitive; you’ve got quite a few big publishers vying for business in a declining market.”
The level of discounting, with £17.8m slashed off r.r.p., rose from 11% in 2008 to 13% last year.
Mesquita said: “I sometimes wonder whether it’s necessary but . . . I think travel publishers have come to accept it as part of their business model.”
In the past five years there has been a drop of 14.2% in the sales of travel guides. World travel guide sales fell 21.6% and UK street atlas sales fell 37.6% between 2005 and 2009. Mesquita added: “Impulse purchases of street atlases are much less as people will download a street map before they go somewhere.”
There was positive news, however, regarding UK guides, up 48% in 2009 and sales of UK walking guides rising over 15%.
But Mesquita was gloomy about 2010’s prospects for travel publishers. “I think it’s going to be a very tough year. The issue is people’s travel habits, and in an atmosphere where we’re still on the verge of recession and in a general election year, I can’t see people loosening purse strings.”
He added: “The most that travel publishers can hope for is a plateauing out of the decline. I definitely don’t see it as being a boom year.”
But travel publishers and booksellers are hoping to recapture travellers’ interest and improve travel sales with enhanced digital content, consumer research and events.
Douglas Schatz, managing director at Lonely Planet, said: “We’re publishing some good new things, we’re not standing still, we’re reaching travellers that we might not have reached before.”
LP has recently launched a new Regional series after consumer research and has a new Discover series coming in May. Schatz said LP would be “expanding quite aggressively with digital”, looking at augmented reality apps and enhancing its website.
Schatz added: “I’m quite positive about 2010, things have been improving recently. It’s firming up a bit.” Schatz said LP’s figures for January were up on last year, although he gave no indication by how much.
Saara Marchadour, manager of The Travel Bookshop in west London, said the shop had launched a programme of talks for the first time this year. “We can’t sit on our laurels,” said Marchadour. “You have to go out and tell them why you’re special.”
Donald Greig, managing director of Bradt, said after a “horrible” 2009, the publisher was forecasting a “challenging year”.
“We’re planning for the worst and hoping for the best,” said Greig. “We’re having a back-to-basics brainstorm about maximising resources to improve profitability.”
Greig said Bradt would be taking a more analytical approach to sales and “really getting to know our customers better and our markets”.
Andrew Steed, general retail manager at Stanfords bookshop in central London, said he was “relatively optimistic” about the year ahead.
“One has to be optimistic in a retail environment or else one wouldn’t open the door,” he said. Steed said highlights from 2009 included UK guides and Ordnance Survey maps and also said non-core stock items including travel accessories had seen “quite spectacular growth”.