Trouble in paradise

Can Conde Nast keep its jet-set readership? No way, says the woman from OK!
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The Independent Culture
Since the launch of Conde Nast Traveller two years ago, its editor Sarah Miller has - with the help of a team picked from various newspapers and magazines - created one of the most desirable-looking glossies on the shelves. Traveller's latest monthly circulation figures are 62,499, up 3.5 percent on the previous six months. And it's highly regarded among advertisers; in the words of one agency buyer, "the readers have money and they buy the magazine because they are planning to spend it."

But in two weeks' time, just when Miller could feel justified for settling comfortably back in her chair, Traveller will be joined by a confident, high-budget newcomer whose formula of outlining dream holidays is disturbingly similar to its own. Escape Routes will be launched by Emap on 18 September (exactly two years to the day from Traveller's launch) with the slogan "Would you call yourself a traveller, not a tourist?" - an adaptation of Traveller's initial promotion.

The new glossy, priced at pounds 2.40 to Traveller's pounds 2.80, is edited by Sharon Ring, the energetic former editor of OK! She says Escape Routes will be populist, decidedly middle-market and aimed at well-off housewives. Conde Nast executives anxiously recall her relentless onslaught on OK!'s rival Hello!, in which she almost doubled sales and secured scoops such as the rights to cover the Beckham-Posh Spice wedding. "It would be very complacent to say we're not worried at all," says Deborah Gresty, Traveller's publisher.

On paper the contrast between the two editors could not be more striking. Oxford-educated Ms Miller's CV boasts periods on The Times and, most recently, as features editor of the Telegraph Magazine. She has a typical Conde Nast editrix's underplayed confidence, and a down-to-earth streak reveals itself in the magazine's feisty editorial.

Before her successful stint as editor of OK!, Ms Ring established herself on Fleet Street as a formidable reporter and celebrity-chasing feature writer on the News of the World. Her former colleagues at OK! call her "the great persuader", and while she has a reputation for being patient and unstintingly hardworking, she moves in different circles from the rarified Conde Nast crowds. She is married to Phil Walker, former editor of the Daily Star; by reputation she is more a saleswoman and fixer than a copy editor. "We're not just creating a magazine but a brand, with the simultaneous launch of a website and booking service," she says. "People want solutions and choices across the board and this is a one-stop shop."

It is hard to imagine Ms Miller talking like that. "We are a features magazine about the world, I have never set out to be a destinations magazine," she says. But she, too, has a formidable background in newspapers and, in Nicholas Coleridge, is backed by one of the canniest chief executives in publishing. "I'm not worried," she says. "We're positively looking forward to some healthy competition."

Launched by Emap Elan, the publisher's women's section, Escape Routes is being aimed squarely at what Emap calls "Daily Mail Woman", with plenty of what Ms Bebe calls "expert-led consumer information" for those aspiring to break out of the package-holiday loop. Insiders say some of the features and sections will be very similar to Traveller's, but with an "all-pervading consumer edge".

"It will be quite different from Conde Nast Traveller and people will value that difference," says Dawn Bebe, Emap Elan's marketing director. "We'll be much more useful and practical, with expert-driven information." There is a small shell lobbed towards Vogue House: "We'll feature hotels you can actually go to as opposed to those you could go to if you earned pounds 100,000 a year".

Relations between the two titles have not got off to a pleasant start, mainly due to unattributed sniping from Emap executives, who have called Traveller "elitist" and "Tatler on holiday". Though Ms Miller will not be drawn into a personal battle, she strenuously denies the charges. "We're not elitist, and that's a point I'm trying to emphasise." There is a new section on budget travel in the October issue (coinciding with the launch of Escape Routes), while the magazine's "no freebies" policy has earned it a reputation for honesty.

With a launch promotion budget of pounds 1.2m, considerably higher than Traveller's own pounds 800,000, Escape Routes will try to eat into its rival's circulation, with a target readership of more than 70,000.

Emap's foray illustrates the opportunities publishers see in a growing, if somewhat ephemeral, market. Some 13.8 million Britons made overseas trips last year, and the prediction is that numbers will carry on increasing with the proliferation of low-cost airlines. Newspaper travel sections have all increased their pagination over the last decade, and there is a cluster of specialist travel magazines that stand beside Conde Nast Traveller.

A crude view of the looming battle between two of Britain's slickest publishers is that two archetypes of Briton abroad are getting their own magazines. The first, aristocratic and adventurous, perhaps viewing himself in the spirit of Scott of the Antarctic or Dr Livingstone (but with a merchant banker's bonus to spend), will take Traveller. The second, well- off but less audacious, wanting a comfortable family holiday, will read Escape Routes.

Whether there will be room for both is the vital question. "Mainstream readers already have newspaper travel sections," says one agency buyer, "which is why Conde Nast has been clever to emphasise its glossy production values and do things newspapers can't."

Nicholas Coleridge sounds a typical note of optimism.

"I don't think it will be all bad - it might actually help us," he says. "Maybe it will enlarge the category, as it did when Esquire came into the market after we launched GQ - we both gained readers and it increased general awareness. And the whole market is expanding."