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The Views Expressed in a Recent Gathering of the Editors-in-Chief of Our Nation's Travel Magazines, Are a Reason for Dismay

It is a long-established practice for the leading publication in the travel industry, Travel Weekly, to conduct an annual symposium of the Editors-in-Chief of America's major travel magazines.  In a conference room or restaurant hired for that purpose, these journalistic eminents respond to questions posed by Travel Weekly's editor, Arnie Weissmann, and then comment on each other's responses.  What do they see as the foremost trends in travel?  How do they plan to cover the various elements of those trends?  What will they stress?  What innovations in their coverage of leisure travel?  And so on.  Their statements are taken down by a stenographer, and then published in question-and-answer form in Travel Weekly.

     This year's symposium was unusual in the hitherto-unknown personalities occupying the post of Editor-in-Chief in many of America's leading travel magazines.  Many such persons are entirely new to the very subject of travel, replacing well-known figures who had occupied those posts in the past.  Keith Bellows, the distinguished editor of National Geographic Traveller for many years, has been replaced by a newcomer.  Nancy Novogrod, editor for at least twenty years at Travel & Leisure, has been replaced.  The editor-in-chief of Conde Nast Traveller is a person new to travel.  It's fair to say, in fact, that the majority of the new faces heading these prestigious magazines for the next several years are persons from fields far removed from travel, with very little experience either in destinations or the various processes of travel.
     Indeed, it appears that to now be an Editor-in-Chief of a U.S. travel magazine, experience in travel is a disqualifier. And that phenomenon perhaps explains the surprising content of their comments and how they look upon an industry—the travel industry—that may very well be the largest on earth, dealing with an activity of immense importance to the peace and commerce of the world.
     I found their comments to be trivial and disturbing.  Each one appeared to regard travel as nothing other than a pure recreational pursuit undertaken for either relaxation alone or mindless excitement at best.  When asked where he planned to travel for his own next vacation, one Editor-in-Chief responded that he had recently seen a photograph of a buffalo in the snow, and that he had determined that he just had to see that buffalo in that setting.  I gathered—I may be wrongˆthat he was headed for Yellowstone where great buffalo herds still exist.  And though I share his interest in these animals, to say that they alone provide a major reason for travel is simply dumb.
      Not a single one of these eminent, non-travel journalists spoke of travel as a learning activity that expands our consciousness and our social, cultural or political horizons.  Not one stressed the reward of witnessing how other people respond to their urban, industrial or environmental problems.  Not one spoke of the education that comes from viewing different lifestyles around the world, different ideologies and politics, different theologies.  Not one spoke of the opportunity to experience in a very personal way, through travel, the great cultural masterworks of famous artists, dramatists, writers, architects or sculptors.  It was as if travel were solely devoted to enjoying the luxuries of great resort hotels, or the cuisine of great restaurants, and to relax, without thought, away from our normal cares.
     And there were other disturbing elements to their discussion.  Though I may be wrong, I sensed—and it was only implied—that none of them had any great desire to keep distant their editorial content from the needs of their advertisers.  I found a high regard for new forms of advertising that only barely differed in appearance from the editorial texts appearing in their magazines.
     I, too, agree that travel magazines should be entertaining.  They can not solely be devoted to politics or culture; they must devote attention to comfort and relaxation; they must review resort hotels, elegant cruises, gourmet meals, adventures via ziplines, kayaks and helicopters.  But I seriously doubt that in the months to come, you will find these new editors devoting even a smidgeon of attention to the political, philsophical or purely cultural aspects of travel, the opportunity to meet and interact with people possessing other outlooks and beliefs, the chance to view and understand the political systems of other nations, the opportunity to confront and consider beliefs and practices that are totally different from our own.
     So I have been deeply discouraged by the views expressed at this year's Travel Weekly symposium. I can only hope that the internet will grow to deal with the serious rewards of travel that will no longer be discussed in our printed travel magazines.