Print … Designed for the 21st Digital Traveler 

Travel industry insiders say printed collateral is still incredibly important … but in a new way.

A page from Abercrombie & Kent’s 2018 Antarctica brochure, which is more of an editorial product than its 20th century predecessors.

Within the last 20 years, the way we travel has radically changed. Instead of calling the travel agent, we book our flights, hotels and car rentals online. Once we get there, we rely on our smartphones, not the hotel concierge, to tell us the nearest restaurants and check ticket prices for attractions.

So where does print still fit into the travel industry marketing strategy?

“For years, we said, ‘Okay, the brochures are going to go away,'” said Ginny Caragol of Valerie Wilson Travel to Michelle Baran in Travel Weekly. “But as I’ve seen them coming back and having a second life, I think they’re going to stay here for a while.”

It makes sense. Even in digital-centered travel companies like Airbnb, print is a premium offering that can build brand awareness and trust. And like the concierge or travel agent, print offers the kind of in-depth and personal experience you can’t often find in digital.

Speaking to an audience of Airbnb hosts in 2016, Joanna Coles of Hearst (Airbnb Magazine’s publishing partner) said, “What it does, unlike any other magazine out there, is that it taps into the expertise of you guys. Everything in it is sourced from hosts and regular travelers.”

Print tells the travel story

That’s what makes the magazine so appealing; the local story, told by the local storytellers. And the idea is making inroads in the travel industry, where many brands had cut down on their print products to move resources toward digital about 10 years ago.

“People still like to have something tangible that they can hold in their hands,” said Amy Eben, of Travel Leaders Travel Advantage in Sioux Center, Iowa.

“They want to walk out of the door of an agency and take something with them to remember the conversation. They want to be able to take notes and mark certain resorts and itineraries and then share it with their friends. We often hear clients say, ‘We are getting together with our friends this weekend and will discuss the options.’ A paper brochure makes that easier.”

And it’s not just the older traveler who seeks info in print, as Adam Cooper, president of Contiki USA, explained to Baran.

“Interestingly, there is a bit of a trend toward ‘analog’ with millennials and Gen Z. We’re seeing that with the revived popularity of vinyl over digital streaming, or books over e-readers,” he said. “It’s all part of the overall nostalgia trend.”

The travel brochure in 2018 – what’s new

There is a key difference, however, in the travel brochure of 2018 compared to 1998; they’ve evolved in much the same way that catalogs have changed. Because all of the necessary “data” can be accessed easily online – like ticket prices, open hours, directions, etc. – the modern travel brochure can tell more of the story behind the information.

“How we utilize brochures has evolved over the years,” said Stacy Wangelin of Travel Leaders Travel Advisors. She explains that while the web offers a ton of information, there’s too much; it can be overwhelming when comparing all your options, and print helps curate the decision-making.

“The brochures help her ‘make sense of it all for them,’” said Baran, noting that it’s more about telling the story than selling the package.

“What most agents and suppliers do agree on is that a large part of the staying power of the paper brochure is that it plays into the emotional aspect of browsing for and booking a vacation,” she notes.

Print and the high-end travel experience

Print brochures are also a tangible way for the potential client to gauge the quality of the brand and the travel experience, something that’s especially important for high-end tour operator Tauck. According to Tauck’s SVP Katherine Bonner, they’ve investigated if digital content could replace their printed pieces. The answer? No.

“The response [to the paper brochure] still merits the investment,” Bonner explains. “I actually think that for many people, that printed piece is kind of the only proof of what they ultimately purchased. They want to hold on to that.”

And that, at the end of the day, is why Bonner and others in her industry still believe in print. “I would say that for the foreseeable future, the print brochure is here to stay.”