Newspapers have been shrinking for years along with the advertising that pays the bills - but travel is bucking the trend in a big way. Ads for tours and trips often make up the majority of the ads in the paper and the income is crucial. But does this compromise commitments to sustainability?
A quick flick through the pages of a metropolitan daily paper or a weekend edition is all you need to spot the trend.
Brightly-coloured ads offering air travel, package holidays and cruises dominate many inside pages.
In recent years, advertising has been drifting online and the vast bulk of digital ad revenue’s been captured by Google and Facebook. Popular local websites like Metservice.co.nz secure more online ad income than some news media outlets.
While NZME and Stuff have become digital media companies running the most-viewed news websites in the country, the ads in their papers still provide the majority of their income.
In 2016 Stuff's revenue from print advertising was about $200 million and it has declined each year since then. The online ad revenue has risen - but it was just $32m in 2016.
So the travel ads are crucial to keeping the papers afloat right now.
The metropolitan papers’ weekly travel sections are getting bigger and the weekend papers’ supplements are getting fatter.
Last month, one edition of the New Zealand Herald carried a bumper 48-page edition of its regular weekly travel supplement and a 56-page special on cruises. Earlier this year The Herald’s publisher NZME also launched a supporting podcast Trip Notes,
“Travel is a lot more affordable and a lot more accessible than it ever used to be. There are so many more options out there and I think with that there will obviously come more advertising that allows us to have more editorial space to tell the stories,” Stuff travel editor Trupti Biradar told Mediawatch.
How come the online giants haven't eaten the media's lunch on travel ads as they have with other products and services?
“Two thirds of New Zealanders read the paper every single week. Importantly for travel the sort of person that reads the paper is likelier to be a baby boomer . . . with the income to go on a cruise and go on a holiday,” said Stuff general manager of newspapers Ben Rose.
“The income is increasingly important - but not to the survival of newspapers. As long as people choose this medium and pay for it it will be there,“ said Ben Rose.
Walking the talk on sustainability
Ads for - and articles about - international cruises have mushroomed in the media mirroring the steady rise in big ships pulling in here. The median age of cruisers is 64 - a favoured demographic of paper publishers.
But the boom has environmental consequences. Last month Stuff reported New Zealand is one of just two countries in the OECD not signed to an international agreement requiring ships to run on cleaner fuel.
But will you read about that in the travel section alongside the full page ads for cruises?
Last month one edition of the Sunday Star Times supplement Escape was dedicated to sustainable tourism.
“By the end of 2019, I'll have taken three long-haul flights, to the USA, Europe and India. I will have flown more than 83,110km and generated more than 6082kg of CO2 emissions,” Stuff travel editor Trupti Biradar wrote under the bold heading Should we still travel the world when we're ruining it?
“To put that into perspective, I will have been responsible for melting more than 59.46sqm of Arctic sea ice. Imagine an area like a queen-size bed, now multiply that by 20,” she added
She announced all Stuff travel stories will now include the carbon emissions of the trip featured and an online link to purchase carbon offsets. Stuff has also hooked up with Air New Zealand’s carbon offsetting scheme FlyNeutral and purchases carbon offsets for all its travelling reporters.
In the same issue, Stuff travel writer Josh Martin revised his own opinions from five years earlier:
“Endorsing emissions-pumping flights ‘just because they're cheap’ for frequent, short-haul breaks away was perhaps less wise,” he wrote.
“As the carbon footprint of aviation increases while no governments take responsibility for it, the argument is downright irresponsible,” he said.
But the pages in which his work is published promote and advertise international travel every week.
Does the sustainability of newspapers trump that of the environment for media companies that can ill afford not to nurture a rare area of booming income?
“We are of the view that if we promote destinations and celebrate all the positive aspects that travel offers we need to be upfront about the implications of that as well,” said Trupti Biradar.
“At Stuff we believe climate change is real and it is affected by human activity. In the past we haven’t really addressed this in our travel coverage so we basically decided that we do need to be upfront about the implications if you do take the trips we promote. That’s why we include the carbon emission information to give readers more information and to offset if they choose to do so,” said Trupti Biradar.
“We are going to report more on overcrowded spots around the world and over-tourism. We are going to tell our readers how to be more responsible, holiday at home instead of going overseas, consider the train instead of a flight and little things like cutting out single use plastic,” she said.
But this can’t be good news for Ben Rose, worried about the bottom line of his newspapers.
“Our job is to stay relevant and change with the travel industry. Readers have told us how important sustainability is to them and advertisers have said the same thing - and they are grappling with how they play a role in it,“ said Ben Rose.
Trupti Biradar has just returned from a trip to India, escorting Stuff readers.
“Like media companies all around the world, we have to try new things and we would not say no to a new opportunity,” said Ben Rose.
But he told Mediawatch the launch of a 'Stuff Tours' offshoot was not imminent.