Sales of travel books in the U.S. fell 7.3% in 2009, dropping to $258.6 million, according to the newly released Travel Publishing Year Book, published by Stephen Mesquita, the U.K.—based travel publishing analyst. The sales decline was slower than in 2008, when revenue fell 16.3%, but with the recession and consumers receiving more of their travel information digitally, the market for U.S. travel books has contracted 22.5% in three years, Mesquita noted. Sales are based on reports from Nielsen BookScan, which covers about 70% of the travel market.

Foreword USA Travel chart smallThe only category to post a gain in 2009 was the U.S. activity guides segment, where sales increased 5.7%. Mesquita attributed the improvement to the decision by the public to vacation inthe outdoors, which is usually cheaper than visiting an American city. With the strengthening of the dollar against some major currencies, the interest in international travel showed some signs of improving, though sales of world travel guides still fell 5.2% in the year, a decline that was less than industry averages. Even with the decline, world travel guides increased their share of the overall travel market, generating sales of $135.8 million last year.

Sales in the “people and places” category, which boomed earlier in the decade due to the “Places to See Before You Die” craze, fell for the second straight year, and that topic seems to have lost most of its momentum, Mesquita said. The worst performing categories in 2009, however, were maps and atlases, a segment where sales are down by nearly one-third in the past three years. In 2009, world atlas sales fell 15.8%, and sales of U.S. maps and atlases did little better, falling 11.7%. The category is suffering from severe competition from various forms of online mapping and direction services.

As they did in 2008, the largest travel publishers fared better in 2009 than their smaller competitors. As retailers trim the size of their travel sections in response to slowing sales, it is the titles of the smaller publishers that tend to get squeezed out, Mesquita noted. The two publishers that did the best in 2009 were National Geographic and Avalon. Bestselling series included National Geographic’s Travelers, Rick Steves (an Avalon imprint), Frommer’s Day by Day, DK Top 10, and Fodor’s.

While the strengthening dollar should help to stimulate foreign travel, Mesquita believes that the market will continue to be tough for world and U.S. guides, with American activity guides still the most likely to buck the negative trends in 2010.

For more information on the travel publishing market, or to order the report, contact Mesquita at