“It was 2009 and the Great Recession was forcing the demise of once-popular titles like Vibe, Domino, Gourmet, and even Teen, which had been read by girls since 1954. In fact, dozens of print publications were being shuttered due to declining subscription numbers and dwindling ad sales,” Vozza continues.
But the founders of AFAR had something special—a unique take on the travel market that focuses on the people you meet when you travel, rather than the things you see and do.
“When Joe and I travel, we see the country through the eyes of its locals,” says co-founder Greg Sullivan in an interview with Vozza.
“Most travel magazines focus on the escape with guides and checklists. No one was talking about our kind of travel–experiential travel–and we knew we could be its voice. People were telling us to start a blog, but we needed a magazine that would lend itself to stories and photos.”
They dove in, teaching themselves about the publishing industry and finding enthusiastic supporters along the way. Among the fans were some key advertisers including Max Mara and Emirates Airline, companies that found the concept to be a good fit with their target audience.
Ironically, Sullivan credits their lack of knowledge in publishing with their initial success.
“If we had been in the industry before, it might have changed how we started,” Sullivan notes. “We focused on what readers want, which we later learned in totally unusual.”
Their passion and determination paid off, with the magazine winning accolades along with a booming circulation base (now up to 250,000 copies). AFAR was named 2013’s “Hottest Travel Magazine” by AdWeek, and they are learning to leverage digital in a way that makes perfect, and seamless, sense to their readers.
“You can save content to your phone and organize lists with mapping, sharing, and saving capabilities,” co-founder Joe Diaz says. “We’ve created the go-to guide in your pocket.”
While most travel publications focus on the facilities—the hotels, restaurants, attractions etc. that are the likely advertisers, AFAR’s focus on the deeper, richer human experiences seems to resonate with a new type of traveler.
“It’s not where you travel; it’s what you do,” notes Sullivan, describing the AFAR experience as “immersive travel offerings for readers.”
It just goes to show that a good idea, backed with passion and determination plus a focus on the end user can create a winning magazine in any economic climate. Well done, sirs, and continued good luck!