In founding SPIN (1985), Gear (1998) and acquiring Discover (2005), the relentlessly provocative Bob Guccione Jr. has poked at the music, tech and science categories, respectively, with an adventurous and irreverent editorial sensibility. This fall he hopes to shake up the travel category with an online destination called Wonderlust. Wait. Travel, the same space occupied by mainstays like Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure? Yes.
Here, we had to ask Guccione why travel, and to explain how he expects Wonderlust to stand out in a category dominated by major media players.
min: Spin is music; Gear is gadgets and sex; and now Wonderlust is…travel. Tell us, what are you doing in this category?
Bob Guccione Jr.: It’s just [about] great storytelling. The first story ever told was a travel story. It had to be. Someone had to say, go here; don’t go there. Here’s food; there’s danger. So it’s straight line for SPIN, which was about telling stories and people discovering the world around them—younger people crossing the threshold from adolescence to young adulthood. Everything I’ve ever done, including Discover, was about telling stories, or taking a dour grey magazine out of being homework and making it a magazine of narratives. So that is the only thing I can do is tell stories.
min: Why is storytelling like you propose still important in a mobile age?
Guccione: I think we find out about ourselves in every story we read. We relate to ourselves best through hearing how other people comport themselves around the world. The travel site I envision is about people, not just nice places. Travel isn’t about the thread-count of your cotton sheets in a hotel. It’s about the people you encounter and the sites you see, the alien worlds you go to and the exotic experiences you encounter.
min: Give us some examples of upcoming features.
Guccione: “10 Travel questions with…” [This will be] a generally fascinating person who may or may not be universally known. A fascinating person with travel relevance trumps celebrity. “Spa Trek” is our biweekly feature on spas around the world—some surprising, some the usual suspects. And something ominously known as “Hotel Ninja” where we bluntly and honestly, review certain hotels without the establishment knowing we’re there. There will also be many regular, more basic sections, like “The Smart Traveler,” “Travel Warnings” and “New Destinations.”
min: Are you targeting a specific type of traveler or a new and different approach in travel content?
Guccione: I think both. Our audience will be the same person who is currently reading Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure or Departures; or those who has stopped reading them. It’s somebody older than Millennials who are, by definition, smart and curious and probably well off. This is not a site about backpacking in Nepal or the cheapest weekend getaway.
min: The travel market has a few lingering luxury travel magazines left, a ton of bargain travel bookings and guides sites, and a robust user-generated pool of content. What does Wonderlust add that isn’t already there?
Guccione: We add something specifically I am surprised is not there—entertainment. We will be entertaining to read. I don’t think there is much humor in travel writing. Too often it’s a generic rehash of conventional opinion and experiences. Rather uniquely, I think Wonderlust is going to look at the humanity of travel before it looks at the places of travel. We will learn more about places through the prism of the people who are there already and the culture and lifestyle and the food and the fun and the humor. So I think we are specifically going to do things that others haven’t chosen or made the effort to do. And maybe they just aren’t as romantic and idealist and naïve as I am and have always been. I tend to unapologetically approach the world in a naïve childlike way.
min: You have been no stranger to controversy and ruffling a few feathers? Whose feathers are you expecting to ruffle with this launch?
Guccione: Definitely Condé Nast [Traveler]. Definitely Travel + Leisure. They are the market leaders and that is where we are aiming and I think we have identified areas they are not addressing, and I think we have identified a tone that is a bit flat, and we will not be flat. I think for too long the bar has been very low on what passed for travel journalism. It’s rarely the great travel writing that we can think of. And I want to be a pleasant surprise to the marketplace and an unpleasant surprise to the market leaders.
I think we will piss off some sacred cows in the industry. And I think we will be tipping some sacred cows. That is something readers get. I work for the reader first and foremost. I never worked for the music industry at SPIN. I never worked with the fashion or tech industry at Gear. I never worked with the science industrial complex at Discover. And I am not going to work for the travel industry with Wonderlust. I am not going to work against it.
If I had to sum up Wonderlust in one word it’s joy. That is what we are about.