Brian Major | December 01, 2015 12:00 PM ET
Hold Off On The Travel Guidebook Requiem
The digital era has had a woeful impact on the once-ubiquitous hand-held guidebooks travelers previously relied on as they traversed cities, countries and continents. In 2013, the Economist reported that two of the largest guide book publishers, Frommer’s and Lonely Planet, weathered a combined $23 million sales decline between 2006 and 2012.
Yet there remains a significant cadre of information-hungry travelers who don’t turn to TripAdvisor or other online resources for travel information. These consumers still rely on well-produced guide books to aid and manage their travels, and a new generation of print guide books is emerging to serve them.
Ironically, Arthur Frommer, whom many call the modern guidebook’s creator, is a key figure behind the newest generation of hand-held travel guides. Frommer launched his latest guide book, Arthur Frommer’s Europe, at a November press gathering in New York hosted by travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance.
During the event the travel icon reflected on a career dedicated to expanding the avenues for travelers of every type to explore new destinations.
“Travel, far from being a trivial recreation, is an important learning experience,” he said. That the 86 year-old travel guru should be leading a vanguard of new guidebook publishers via an eponymous company is a surprising turn of events in itself.
Frommer’s 1957 publication of Europe on $5 a Day, which expanded on his 1955 self-published book GI's Guide to Traveling in Europe, set the pattern for the contemporary guidebook. The journal also launched a publishing firm that over the ensuing years grew to number more than 350 titles.
Frommer went on to operate an Amsterdam hotel (the Hotel Mercure Amsterdam) as well as a tour operator company. He also launched Budget Travel magazine. In 1977 he sold his travel guide book business to Simon & Schuster.
Subsequent sales followed until August 2012, when Google announced its purchase of Frommer's Travel Guides from John Wiley & Sons, part of the tech giant’s strategy to acquire online content. Only seven months later, in March of 2013, Google signed the death sentence (albeit temporary) for Frommer's guidebooks, axing all print production and absorbing the brand’s remaining portions into Google’s voluminous network.
That’s when Frommer and his daughter, respected travel journalist Pauline Frommer, stepped in, re-acquiring the name and rights to the guidebook series from Google. The first of the new Frommer titles debuted later that year.
The new 800-page Europe guide is a comprehensive manual that explores sightseeing, exploring, dining accommodations and activities in England and Scotland, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. In keeping with this latest generation of Frommer guidebooks, the edition is more compact and less expensive than previous editions.
The book features tips and advice from Arthur and a team of Europe-based travel experts. The guide’s launch came only days after November terrorist attacks in Paris targeted areas frequented by travelers.
Frommer said the incidents should not deter Americans from traveling to France and Europe. On the contrary, he called travel a means to “understand and appraise the different political, cultural and lifestyle attitudes of people throughout the world.” He added that travelers should always purchase insurance as “proper preparation” for such random and unexpected incidents.
“Arthur has long found ways to save Americans money while traveling, but now it costs more than $5 a day to visit Europe,” said Mike Nelson, Allianz’ CEO, “making it more important than ever for travelers to protect their investment with travel insurance.”
After 60 years of travel writing and reporting, Frommer is clearly still going strong. In addition to the Frommer's guides, he produces a series of “Day by Day” series of hand-held print guidebooks for U.S. and international cities. He writes a syndicated travel column and with his daughter hosts a weekly syndicated radio show, "The Travel Show with Arthur & Pauline Frommer.”
Meanwhile the latest Frommer’s guidebooks have tapped into a market not served by electronic media. As the Economist article points out, there are millions of travelers who lack expensive international mobile data plans or access to Internet connections and still rely on guidebooks. Looks like the reports of the guidebook’s demise were premature, to say the least.
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