Few industries have been as direly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic as travel. As airlines seek bailouts and resorts struggle to reopen, travel publishers are also feeling the pinch. Who needs a book about the best places to visit in Venice when few are traveling there? (Maybe actual Venetians, who are getting a break from the usual cruise ship flotilla invasion.)
The stark decline in international tourism has led some publishers to hold off on the release of offshore travel guides. U.K. distributor and publisher Kuperard, for example, postponed the release of 14 newly redesigned Culture Smart! guides—to such locations as Indonesia, Switzerland, and Uganda—from May 2020 to January 2021. “We wanted to be able to make editorial changes to the guides so that they would be post-Covid relevant,” says series editor Daniel Kuperard. “Pushing the publication dates back has allowed us to do that.”
Publishers of domestic travel guides, on the other hand, are forging ahead with fall release plans, and perhaps with good reason. According to a report from NPD BookScan, print unit sales of U.S. travel books, after a sharp drop-off, increased by almost 80% between mid-April and mid-May, when many people begin devising their summer travel plans in earnest. Sales of titles focused on western U.S. states in particular increased by more than 100%.
The report quoted Kristen McLean, books industry analyst for NPD, who explained, “The reemergence of travel books indicates that local and regional travel in the U.S. will be popular this summer, as Covid-19 keeps many people from flying.” She expanded on the implications in a conversation with PW: “RV rentals are up, and I think we’re going to see good traffic to outdoor destinations like state parks, and camping and hiking vacations.”
In the coming months, travel publishers are putting out books for domestic travelers, with a focus on pandemic-friendlier locations and activities. These guides to hiking trails, national parks, and scenic drives have special relevance during this era of aviophobia and social distancing, of course. As a bonus, they may also help American readers to reacquaint themselves with their country’s natural wonders.
Take a hike
Hiking might be the original social distancing pastime, popular walkways and closures notwithstanding. Autumn brings titles for those looking to blaze trails either out of love or virologic necessity.
In October, the University of New Mexico Press will publish Arizona’s Scenic Roads and Hikes by Roger Naylor, an author of several Arizona travel guides and a member of the Arizona Tourism Hall of Fame. The book, which identifies trekking spots off of Arizona’s picturesque driving routes, reflects the publisher’s longtime and newly relevant regional focus. The current interest in local outdoor exploration, says Stephen Hull, the publisher’s director, “ties in remarkably well with our strengths.”
Larger publishers, too, have hiking-focused books on offer. In September, Rizzoli will release Hiking Trails of the Pacific Northwest by photographer Bart Smith and travel writers Craig Romano and William L. Sullivan, with a foreword by former Washington governor and U.S. senator Dan Evans, as well as America’s National Historic Trails by Karen Berger, who’s written numerous hiking books, with photos by Bart Smith and a foreword by documentarian Ken Burns. Both titles, rich in images, also work as armchair guides.
Richard Hunt, president of travel publisher AdventureKeen, whose imprints will be delivering several outdoors-themed titles this fall, says offering regional travel guides is a service to readers during the pandemic. In addition to hiking and backpacking guides, including Backpacking California (Wilderness, Sept.), Five-Star Trails: Birmingham by Thomas M. Spencer, and Five-Star Trails: Chattanooga by Johnny Molloy (both coming in October from Menasha Ridge), AdventureKeen is betting on books that might appeal to those taking to the trails: guides for novice birders.
In September, the publisher’s Adventure imprint will release seven regional titles in Stan Tekiela’s Birding for Beginners series. The publisher has fast-tracked these books, Hunt says, so that people can “get out and feel comfortable within their own cars, or within their own space.” Regional trips, he adds, let travelers feel “more in control, if we could ever think we’re in control in this world.”
In terms of outdoor space to explore, Americans have an embarrassment of riches. The country’s national parks, for instance, encompass 52 million acres. As the parks reopen, in phases and with variable guidelines—and with varying degrees of success at enforcing social distancing—people are returning. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the number of visitors to Utah’s Zion National Park during June was 335,000—a drop from the almost 600,000 who entered the park in June 2019, but significant nonetheless.
Here, too, publishers are embracing a more local travel readership. In December, Rough Guides plans to release The Rough Guide to the USA’s National Parks, which covers all 62 national parks and includes 150 photos. René Frey, CEO of Rough Guides and Insight Guides, says the publisher halted production in late March and postponed many international titles because of the pandemic. “It was a really, really difficult situation for us,” he recalls. “Our understanding is that it will take some time for international travel to recover. We’re trying to come up with a more domestic program.”
DK, likewise, will publish USA National Parks in September, and it, too, has delayed international titles. Georgina Dee, publishing director of DK’s travel division, says she’s optimistic that the publisher’s domestic titles will perform strongly. “I always think that the sale of a travel guide is related to the investment that people make in a trip,” she says. “That investment might be monetary, but it also might be emotional. The emotional investment people will make in domestic trips will be heightened, I think.”
Bill Newlin, publisher at Avalon, which will release an updated version of its Moon USA National Parks in October, has been pleasantly surprised by the buoyancy of the publisher’s domestic titles—especially those focused on parks, road trips, and outdoor recreation. But the continuing risk of travel (even domestic travel) gives him promotional pause. “We’re making sure that the books are available and in view, and we’re relaying to accounts the nature of our success,” he says. “But we also want to exercise civic responsibility when it comes to marketing. We’re not actually out there beating the tom-tom, saying, ‘Yowza! Parks and road trips. Get yourselves out there now.’ But we have the books, and there’s a pent-up demand.”
Hit the road
Maybe the safest thing to do is simply stay in one’s car. If so, there’s a silver lining: America’s miles upon miles of open highway, and guides for those seeking to explore their homeland from behind the wheel. These include Road Trippers Route 66 (Dec.) from Roadtrippers, an imprint of AdventureKeen, and, from Avalon, an updated edition of Moon Pacific Coast Highway Trip (Nov.) and The Open Road (Oct.), which lays out 50 U.S. road trips.
Will Americans use the coming travel season to re-acquaint themselves with their country—not just its beauty but its place in the world and vulnerable environment? Two armchair travelogues suggest road tripping might lead to such lofty reflections. In America (Black Cat, Sept.), French journalist François Busnel collects essays, some translated, including French novelist Philippe Besson’s account of his road trip from Chicago to New Orleans, that circle the theme of U.S.–France relations. And in Leave It as It Is (Simon & Schuster, Aug.), David Gessner, a professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, road trips to the places that fostered President Theodore Roosevelt’s conservationism, revisiting and reconsidering his environmental legacy.
Perhaps the best summation of this year’s crowd-fearing, escape-hungry travel season comes from an observation Roosevelt himself makes in his 1908 book Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter. “The farther one gets into the wilderness,” he writes, “the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.”
Daniel Lefferts is a writer in New York City.
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