Catalogers Cash In on the Travel Goods Market

Last year, consumers spent more than $561.3 billion on travel expenditures, including transportation, lodging, recreation, and incidentals, according to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), a Washington-based nonprofit organization. Given that the TIA predicts travel expenditures will reach $622 billion in 2002, catalogers that sell products designed for travel are poised to cash in on the boom.

In fact, many catalogers are already cashing in. For Voyager’s Collection, “fourth-quarter 2000 sales were a nice surprise – we finished up 10% compared to the same period in 1999, and a good 10% ahead of projections,” says Bill Rooney, president of the catalog division of Voyager’s Collection’s parent company, Los Angeles-based ProTeam.com.

Voyager’s Collection drops more than 1 million catalogs a quarter to names from ProTeam’s other titles, including sports catalogs The Edge, Manny’s, Sidelines, and Hot Off the Ice, as well as names from rented lists. Through a partnership with American Airlines formed in 1998, Voyager’s also reaches an undisclosed number of buyers in-flight and mailed to selected names from the American Airlines Advantage frequent flier club. The catalog’s product mix includes private-label American Airlines luggage ($50-$450), compact travel umbrellas ($20), and Pentax camera kits ($299).

Sales at Santa Barbara, CA-based travel accessories cataloger Magellan’s have increased 20% between 1999 and 2000, says president John McManus, in part because, “More people are at the age where they have the time and ability to travel.” He also attributes growth to increased emphasis on Magellan’s two-year-old Website, which addresses customers’ need for quick service: “Customers are calling in orders with one foot on the plane,” he says.

Last year, Magellan’s initiated a weekly sweepstakes campaign in which Website visitors who opted in for e-mail were eligible to win free luggage. The $20 million cataloger then sent these visitors periodic e-mails promoting product in connection with recent media travel events. “If there is a story on unsafe cabin air, for instance, we’ll promote a product that alleviates this problem,” says McManus.

Still, while the Website, accounting for 30% of sales, has contributed to Magellan’s growth, 60%-65% of Magellan’s sales stem from the catalog. (The remaining sales come from the company’s Santa Barbara outlet).

Online cataloger Christine Columbus.com also found that travel commands attention on the Web. “Every year our sales double,” says Annette Zientek, founder of the Lake Oswego, OR-based site, which sells travel products tailored for women. Business is so good, in fact, that Zientek hopes to secure enough financing to relaunch her print catalog that she launched in 1995 and ceased printing in 1997.

Growth through cross-promotion Cross-promotion opportunities are also helping to spur growth within the travel accessories niche. With print runs approaching 10 million a year, Magellan’s mails to its house list – approximately 400,000 24-month buyers – and also prospects extensively to lists from lifestyle catalogs, such as Fine Wine, and travel magazines. In addition, Magellan’s delivers catalogs in bulk to travel agents and tour operators.

“Travel agents now offer the service of guiding clients to products that meet their travel needs,” McManus says. “Also, agents often give a catalog gift certificate to clients in lieu of the traditional bon voyage flowers.” McManus estimates that business from travel agents accounts for less than 2% of his gross revenue.

Magellan’s isn’t the only cataloger to recognize the importance of winning over travel agents. Myron Silverman, president of Sharon, CT-based Traveler’s Checklist, an eight-page travel accessories catalog, offers a 10% discount to travel agents who promote its merchandise.

Similarly, several travel products catalogers – including Novato, CA-based TravelSmith Outfitters, Freeport, ME-based L.L. Bean Traveler, and Seattle-based Ex Officio – have partnered with Country Walkers, a catalog that sells walking vacations. Each year Country Walkers mails 3,000-4,000 of its partners’ books to its clients, along with product suggestions suited to their trips, says Bob Ellasser, general manager of the Waterbury, VT-based cataloger.

Growth of luggage and travel products within its overall apparel and accessories assortment encouraged cataloger Eddie Bauer to pursue a cross-merchandising venture with the Washington-based National Geographic. In November ’99, the two entities launched a branded line of travel merchandise, including games, journals, and small luggage items.

While some fear that an impending economic slowdown could dampen sales, many catalogers expect the travel goods cash cow to grow fatter. McManus forecasts 20% growth for Magellan’s in 2001: “Based on the size of the baby boomer market, “I see no reason sales would fall off.”

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