Backroads, 1999/2000

Sep 01, 1999 9:30 PM  By

If the Annual Catalog Awards were merely a “beauty contest,” Backroads would likely have walked away with a Gold Award just for its sumptiously photographed, lovingly designed catalog of biking, hiking, and multisport vacations. But the beauty of Backroads, described by one judge as “a coffee-table book,” is more than skin deep. From its wealth of itineraries to its attention to detail, notes another judge, the company’s “passion for its product line and its customers shines through.”

Backroads sells, via travel agents, 150 trips on five continents. In the past, the company had focused primarily on cycling vacations, but in this, its 20th anniversary catalog, it includes trips that offer skiing, kayaking, and even camel riding. “I like the expansion beyond biking,” says a judge, “which had been rather narrow.”

With a hiking/rafting/horseback riding trip to the Chilean wine region, a cycling vacation through Bali, and a walking adventure through Zimbabwe and Botswana, the offerings in this edition of the Backroads catalog can hardly be called narrow. Nor can the catalog’s descriptions of the vacations.

The description of each trip begins with a paragraph that sells the romance of the destination. For instance, the copy for one hiking vacation begins “Jungfrau, Eiger and MUnch are not classical composers. They’re part of the mightly alpine panorama of craggy peaks, turquoise glaciers, lakes and meadows in the Swiss Alps known as the Bernese Oberland. Meandering through this storybook landscape, we travel by trains, funicular railways, boats and gondolas….” This romantic overview then gives way to a detailed day-by-day outline of the trip’s itinerary (“Rendezvous in Kandersteg, a mountaineering center, and hike along the Kander River beneath the Blümlisalp and Doldenhorn peaks. Accompanied by local ho-telier and guide Casi Platzer, take a chairlift, then hike to Oeschinensee….”). Finally, a sidebar provides the dates, the price, the rating of the route and terrain in terms of difficulty and fitness level required, and any other notes about the trip.

And that’s just the product copy. Backroads wraps its trip descriptions with nearly 30 pages of information on how to choose the right trip, a history of the company (which provides a comforting sense of credibility), and the service extras (specially trained tour leaders, on-the-road support, accommodation of dietary restrictions) that single out Backroads from the competition. And for the travel agents through whom the vacationers book their trips, the catalog includes easy-to-read calendars of all the offerings, broken down by date, type of trip, and price. And if that’s not enough to sell a trip, take another look at those fabulous photos. One judge sums up Backroads this way: “It creates a mindset and provides the must-know information to let the reader make a decision. If I had the time and the money, I’d buy all the trips!”


Backroads, 1999/2000

Sep 01, 1999 9:30 PM  By

Backroads celebrated its 20th anniversary by mailing a massive catalog crammed with spectacular photography and enticing descriptions to lure travelers into exotic vacations. As one judge states, “This is a coffee-table l book.”

Although several judges note that this year’s cover is similar to last year’s, none can find fault with Backroads’ choice of this warm, inviting image. Once inside the book (and results show that few could resist taking a look), readers are bombarded by wave after wave of eye candy.

But Backroads’ impressive organization keeps its selection from overwhelming its audience. Trips are divided into bicycling, walking, hiking, and multisport adventures, with color-coded die-cut thumb tabs to propel readers into their area of interest. Then each section begins with a table of contents arranges by region to guide prospects quickly to fantasy trips from New England to New Zealand. Once at their destination within the catalog pages, the readers are greeted by copy that one judge calls @magical.” Take this example: “Glorious days spent pedaling the refreshing green of the Irish countryside are enough to put a jig in anyone’s step.” Another judge praises president Tom Hale’s opening letter: “It is very genuine and evokes real knowledge of and passion for traveling.”

Beautiful pictures never hurt either, and Backroads peppers its spreads with rolling landscapes, sheer peaks, country churches, and perhaps most important, smiling faces. But despite the awe-inspiring photos, at least one judge feels that the catalog looks a bit monotonous, noting that “spread presentations are a bit short on variety.” And several judges point out a misplaced map icon well into the book that confuses Eastern Canada/Quebec with Eastern Canada/Nova Scotia, which could cause a potential customer to mistrust other aspects of Backroads.

The first 18 pages of the catalog details the expectations and services provided by Backroads. Then there are the full=page discussions of family trips and solo trips, mountain biking, and bike rentals; an easy-to-read schedule of all the trips; and a clear, exhaustive listing of policies and guidelines. The 40 pages of customer service do more than build confidence in Backroads’ products. As a panelist notes, “Backroads has positioned itself as a leading authority in bicycling and related trips. Its phenomenal use of editorial supports this position and builds the brand.”