Newspapers have spent the best part of, well, ever since the web came along, trying to figure out how to capitalise on travel search and content being one of the most popular activities online.
Various models have come and gone, ranging from publishing more of the glossy weekend supplement-type travel writing and endless lists (“Best places to visit before you die”) to fully formed and integrated online travel agencies.
Has anyone REALLY made it work, both in terms of managing to position themselves as vital resources of travel information and a producing a healthy return commercially?
Both elements are difficult to judge, given that most newspapers do not share their commercial revenues for individual departments and the value of content is very subjective.
But step forward the Daily Mail, one of the UK’s biggest newspapers which has thrown a massive amount of effort into its online activities in recent years, not least today with the launch of a new travel brand known as MailTravel.
In short, MailTravel is a paper-branded microsite hosted by P&P Associates, with air, hotel, package holidays, cruises and transfers available for booking.
It is effectively an online travel agency, with products protected by ABTA much like any other OTA in the UK.
But will it work?
The Daily Mail’s parent company,¬†A&N Media¬†(a division of¬†DMGT), will obviously be hoping so, but those with memories reaching back further than when details announcing the project came out this week will recall that the paper¬†has been here before.
Five years ago the company made what it then hoped would be an enormous push into travel with TravelMail (not, err, MailTravel).
After delays with the launch in early-2007, TravelMail finally appeared in May of that year with a mixture of guides, content from the main papers and travel product from sister deal site Teletext Holidays.
It obviously didn’t work out as a standalone brand as TravelMail eventually just redirected back to the main travel pages on the Daily Mail website.
MailTravel is a much different proposition, in some respects, being an OTA rather than a content and ad deal farm like its predecessor.
And, of course, the mothership is a far bigger beast in 2012 than it was in 2007, with Comscore earlier this year claiming the Daily Mail website is now the biggest newspaper website in the world, overtaking the New York Times¬†and, much to its UK rival’s horror, the Guardian.
So has it picked the right model?
There doesn’t appear to be a guaranteed formula for success on the commercial side, with newspaper sites often noisily opening new services only to switch them to something else a year or so later (the Telegraph and the Guardian in the mid-2000s were forever switching between white labelled metasearch or OTAs to just pushing advertiser deals).
Bosses behind MailTravel will be hoping that the millions of visitors that flock to the main newspaper site – Comscore reckons around 45.3 million UVs a month – for their (bizarrely, given the political slant of the print edition) fix of celebrity news and sport will soon head over to the microsite.
Integration and cross-promotion will be massively important with this initiative – so expect lots of links and plugs to the MailTravel nestled in between the reams of picture showreels of half-naked footballers and models.