Social media is awash in travel photos trumpeting what appears to be a return to business as usual. PW asked the folks on the ground—guidebook publishers—whether their experiences match what we’re all seeing in our Instagram feeds.
Jaimee Callaway, v-p and associate publisher at Avalon Travel, home of the Rick Steves and Moon guides, is unequivocal in her market assessment. “Travel is really, truly, fully back,” she says. “People are out there again in full force, especially in Europe, and they’re buying guidebooks.”
Circana BookScan sales figures hint at the shift: while print unit sales of adult nonfiction overall were down 5% for the first half of 2023 compared with the first half of 2022, print unit sales of travel books during that time period were up 6%.
Other publishers share Callaway’s optimism. “European destinations are coming back massively,” says Georgina Dee, publishing director at DK Travel. Pauline Frommer, copresident and editorial director at FrommerMedia, says her company underestimated the strength of the revival. “We didn’t print enough on a wide range of titles and have gone back to press multiple times,” she says. “It’s been kind of crazy.”
Many forthcoming releases represent the first updated editions their publishers have released since travel restrictions eased significantly. The pace of growth this year may have been a pleasant surprise, but the direction was entirely expected. European destinations dominate the catalogs of the publishers PW spoke with, with an emphasis on much-needed revisions of existing guides.
Rick Steves is “exhilarated” and not just because, per BookScan, half of the year’s 10 bestselling travel titles to date bear his name. “The travelers are back,” Steves says, and so is his network of researchers and coauthors, who waited until spring 2022 to head back out into the field—for safety reasons and also because their information would have been outdated once the health emergency was over.
The first fruits of those renewed efforts are just starting to hit the market, and reflect a new reality. Because the crowds in Europe rival those of the before times, updated editions emphasize tips for navigating the fray. For example, regardless of whether the Alhambra or the Eiffel Tower requires a reservation or advance purchase for admission, Steves says, “You’d be crazy to show up without a ticket.”
Rick Steves Pocket guides, geared toward travelers staying less than a week in a city, have begun rolling out with substantial updates and refreshed covers ahead of schedule, Callaway says, thanks to improved shipping timelines. June’s Pocket London will be followed by August books on Barcelona and Florence. Fall updates to the “Best of” country series, designed for a one- to two-week stay, include Spain and France (Sept.) and Italy and Ireland (Nov.).
Apa Publications, home of Rough Guides and Insight Guides, has 44 titles due out between August and January, including a handful of new Mini Rough Guides—Budapest, Gran Canaria, Reykjavik, and Vienna. But the majority of forthcoming titles are updates, says managing director Agnieszka Mizak, and given all the changes since guidebook writers were last out in the field, those updates are taking about 20% more time than they did before.
The extra effort is necessary, says Apa CEO René Frey. “Demand for European destinations is coming back hugely.” All updated editions and new publications include more information about sustainable travel, he adds, with an emphasis on appealing to a variety of traveler interests. In September, Apa is releasing The Rough Guide to Top LGBTQ+ Friendly Places in Europe, a photo-packed compilation of 20 destinations that celebrate queer culture. Divided seasonally, the entries include a winter Pride festival in Stockholm and a summer arts and electronic music festival in Puglia, Italy.
At Moon, editor-in-chief Grace Fujimoto reports fewer first editions than usual and an emphasis on more thorough revisions. “We really needed to regroup,” she says. Moon, which historically focused on Asia and the Americas, launched its European list in 2019 to a strong start only to watch sales evaporate in 2020. Those destinations began taking off again in spring 2023. “We were surprised by how strong the urge was to get back to Europe,” Fujimoto says. “It’s been gratifying to see.”
In addition to updated editions, the imprint is releasing two new titles. Moon Best of Greece (Nov.) by Joanna Kalafatis, a travel blogger, and Sarah Souli, a journalist in Athens, delineates seven- to 10-day itineraries. In December, Moon Norway by Norwegian author Lisa Stentvedt, who previously contributed to Fodor’s Essential Norway, will replace an earlier publication from 2019 written by British expat David Nickel. Stentvedt’s Moon Guide contains more outdoor activities than Nickel’s, based on the expectation that the current vogue for wide-open spaces will continue.
Like other publishers PW spoke with, FrommerMedia is concentrating on updating its existing collection, moving to a full-color format in the process. The publisher initially thought travelers would remain wary of international travel and as a result focused on U.S. guides. “But what we’re finding is that no, people really want to go to the bucket list destinations,” says copresident Pauline Frommer. “They want to go to Europe.”
Six of Frommer’s 14 fall updates are to European guides, including, in November, the chunky Frommer’s Italy 2024, totaling more than 800 pages. Contributors include Elizabeth Heath (The Architecture Lover’s Guide to Rome) and Stephen Keeling (Frommer’s Family Travel Guide to Tuscany and Umbria).
Piers Pickard, managing director at Lonely Planet, notes that many titles are selling heavily even outside their typical seasons. “We’ve been surprised by the desire this year for the big trips or the dream trips.”
New ventures for the publisher include the forthcoming Best Bike Rides series, which is aimed at recreational cyclists. “We don’t see any slowdown in people’s interest in wellness while they’re traveling,” Pickard says. The guides contain more practical information than the coffee-table Epic Bike Rides books (see “6 New Bucket List Travel Guides”) and go on sale beginning in October with destinations including Italy, France, and Great Britain.
Hardie Grant’s city-centric Curious Travel Guides have taken urban explorers to Italy (2019’s Lost in Florence), Denmark (2020’s Hygge Travels in Copenhagen), and elsewhere. In September, with Beyond the Cobblestones in Dublin, the series alights on the Emerald Isle. Author Fiona Hilliard, a Dublin local, maps out half-day and full-day itineraries aimed at a contemporary tourist—think brunch spots and sustainable design boutiques, though good old-fashioned pubs get their due.
Hardie Grant's sibling imprint, Quadrille, launches its Rainy Day series in August with guides to London and Edinburgh. Isabelle Aron, formerly an editor at Time Out London, gathers 100 spots to seek shelter from the English elements—venerable cultural institutions, hidden booze dens, and even a Victorian-era brolly shop. In Rainy Day Edinburgh, travel journalist Mike MacEacheran gives the Scottish capital similar treatment.
DK’s Like a Local series expands its city roster to include Rome in September. The slim hardcover groups attractions by theme rather than location—eat, drink, shop, arts and culture, nightlife, and the outdoors—capping each with a neighborhood walking tour.
Also in September, DK is releasing a color-saturated revamp of Where to Go When: Great Britain and Ireland, after the 2019 overhaul of the flagship title in the series. The month-by-month guide would have been released sooner were it not for Covid, Dee says.
“Travel is in this emotionally charged space right now where people are either returning to a place they really love or trying something completely new,” she explains. Either way, according to Dee and others, the compass points to Europe: “All the classic destinations are back.”
Jasmina Kelemen is a freelance writer in Houston.
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