Why Afar Is Dipping Its Toes Into the Travel Business
The company is finding different ways to take its readers from inspiration to action.
From custom studios to ad retargeting to recommendation engines, customization and personalization are becoming dominant trends in media.
Travel publisher Afar is taking the concept a step further with its latest program, Afar Journeys, offering customizable itineraries and booking options for travelers to select international destinations. It’s working with Switzerland Tourism for its first project, connecting potential travelers with parnters on the ground.
According to Greg Sullivan, CEO and co-founder of Afar, Journeys is actually an extension of the company’s existing offerings. The site has more than 80,000 suggestions—“utilitarian guides for the independent traveler,” he says—that readers can go to for ideas. Journeys helps them complete the circle, moving beyond inspiration and into action.
The program also builds off of another initiative, Afar Experiences, that the company has run in recent years. Experiences offers four days of event programming in a given city, aiming to connect travelers with unique human interest elements of a destination rather than just the locale itself—something Journeys is emphasizing.
“It’s designed to form a deeper connection to places and see it through a local set of eyes,” says Joe Diaz, Afar’s chief product officer and co-founder. “Everything out there was about the escape and sitting on the beach, drinking Mai Thais.”
Putting together a diverse group of local experts including government ministers, artists, scientists, architects, comedians, activists and more, it’s not an accident that it sounds a little like the TED model—Sullivan and Diaz have each been to TED conferences a handful of times and poached Jill Greenwood from the group to be Afar’s director of the Experiences program.
They’ve run six programs to this point—Cairo, Johannesburg, Sydney, Seattle, Wa., Mexico City and Charleston, N.C.—and have another three in the works.
While Experiences draw “mid-six-figure” sponsorships from clients like tourism boards, airlines and hotels, in addition to hefty registration fees from the 25 to 40 attendees—$4,000 for international events; $1,500 for domestic ones—the startup costs aren’t nominal. They vary widely based on the destination, but Diaz says overhead typically runs into six figures. Greenwood will travel to a city five or six times, spending up to eight weeks on site planning for an event.
“There are a lot [of logistical challenges], and they’re different in every place,” Diaz says. “We’re building these all from the ground up, so there’s not a lot of existing infrastructure. You name the logistical challenge, and we’ve seen it. It’s all of the things you deal with in an events business, but they’re more complicated because you’re not from there.”
Whether its Experiences or Journeys though, Afar is mindful of the fact that it’s not a travel business per se. Partnerships with its Travel Advisory Council are core to execution, and as a media entity, it’s important to maintain a level of neutrality over the trips it’s promoting. Sullivan says Journeys functions more as a lead provider than a booking agency, nor is it an ecommerce venture. Still, they have to consider fulfillment and customer service issues that wouldn’t arise before.
“It’s not like we’re competing with Abercrombie and Kent or Cox and Kings,” Sullivan says, “but there’s no doubt that media is moving toward that mix of inspiring and enabling. There’s a natural connection there, especially as the digital business becomes more transaction-leading.”