The Mass Tourism Mindset

travel countriesIf you want a clear look at the kind of readers most glossy travel magazines want to attract, just take a look at this ad from Visa that is running in a few of them this month. It’s a vending machine filled with flag-covered countries: the UK, France, Italy, Australia, India, Mexico and more. The tag at the bottom says, “Pre-packaged travel plans make it easy to pick up and go.”

In other words, traveling somewhere should take as much thought and planning as buying a bag of Doritos or a Snickers bar. And hey, it will be just as nourishing!

There are so many things wrong with this ad that it almost makes me want to use my American Express exclusively. (But alas, my Capital One visa charges no foreign exchange conversion fee, while Amex hits me with 2 percent. See your credit card’s travel tax.)

The thing is, a lot of people do approach their vacation this way, selecting a package the way they would a soda or a snack. No surprises, nothing unexpected please! And the travel magazines like it this way. Fragmented, free-thinking, independent travelers do not attract advertising dollars from the likes of cruise lines and big hotel chains. And those smelly backpackers don’t buy Prada. So the magazines cover the same spots frequently (the most popular) and review all those hot new hotel openings with breathy praise (nothing negative please–they cover the payroll).

So put on the skeptic’s glasses whenever you leaf through one of the high-circulation travel mags while waiting around at the dentist’s office. Like Visa, these publishers are very happy if you just pick something from their vending machine and don’t think twice about it.

  1. Marilyn Terrell

    Well that’s a funny ad, but you won’t find it in National Geographic Traveler (where I work), at least not in our October or November issues, which I just checked. And I don’t think it accurately reflects the thoughtful approach to travel that our readers have, as we’ve found in their letters and emails to us. I imagine some art director was just trying to be clever!

  2. tim

    Marilyn, I’m glad to hear that! I do think National Geographic Traveler is a clear step above the others (NG Adventure too). You are one of the few I recommend on my book sites:

    It’s still stuffed with way too many glowingly positive “special advertising features” that are hard to tell apart from the real stories, but travel mags seem to be addicted to those sleights of hand these days. I do appreciate not having to go through 20 pages of watch and perfume ads before getting to the table of contents! And yes, you actually encourage people to think for themselves and not just follow the herds.

  3. Marilyn Terrell

    Thank you Tim for recommending Nat Geo Traveler on your Contrarian Traveler site. We appreciate the distinction you make between our magazine and the competition!
    Advertising is what makes our magazine possible, but I know what you mean about advertising that tries to look editorial. We just figure our readers are savvy enough to know the difference. And rather than try to sell you perfume and jewelry, we’ve got our online Authentic Shopping Guide, to tell you where to find authentic crafts around the world. This month we debut Laura Morelli’s column called “The Genuine Article” on our website, and she focuses on hand-embroidered textiles from Rajasathan:

  4. Ron Mader

    A few years ago I attended a meeting with a tourism official in Mexico. He was very proud of the coverage given in National Geographic and Conde Nast Traveler and even framed the stories for the walls of his office. I looked closely and what he had framed were not stories but the ads. It was a surreal moment as he did not understand the difference or what it might matter to others.

  5. Discount Perfume

    I can see where you are going with this article and, to a certain extent, I agree with it. However, not all packaged travel are can be lumped into the same proverbial bin. For example, Rick Steves travel packages ( specializes in European travel packages that take travelers off the beaten path…away from all the touristy and packed places around Europe.

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