UPDATE: The Family Traveller brand was bought by an investment group on 24 September, which its liquidator said in a statement was “a vote of confidence in the brand, and the future of the travel sector as a whole”.
The director of a travel magazine company that went into liquidation because of Covid-19 remains optimistic that the sector will recover in early 2021.
The Family Traveller magazine was forced to abruptly halt its quarterly print production in April, despite having editions for the UK and US almost entirely ready to go with major advertisers on board.
The website kept going until early September, when the liquidation took place, but company founder and director Andrew Dent told Press Gazette that despite strong traffic it was difficult to monetise – a problem faced by many media organisations despite record readership in the past six months.
Dent, who founded parent company Ardent Media Ltd for the magazine’s UK launch in 2013, said: “We are predominantly an advertising led business and our clients are predominantly tourist boards and hotels and cruise lines, all of which obviously have been materially impacted by Covid and haven’t been able to do any advertising-led activity, mainly because things keep changing so much and if you were to do a campaign with someone by the time we actually launched it the information could have changed.
“So the entire industry has been paralysed for six to seven months which has meant that our revenue has fallen to effectively zero.
“And while the traffic is high and the engagement is really good on social, if you can’t monetise that traffic or engagement there’s not an awful lot you can do.
“It’s frustrating because we were profitable and growing – in January and February we had two of our record months and then March and April fell to zero… £100,000 plus per month to zero. No media business can absorb that.”
Dent pointed to the closure of the Sunday Times Travel Magazine and redundancies across the sector as he added: “The past five to six months have been incredibly difficult on everybody.”
“It’s really out of all of our control as publishers in travel media right now,” he said.
But he added that his aim has been to retain the brand’s presence and be ready for recovery in the sector when it comes.
“Because it will come and people will travel again and people will buy travel magazines again and I think the first issue we do will be hugely popular,” he said.
He hopes the brand will return to print in January 2021, with at least three editions next year, to target people starting to book family holidays for Easter or next summer.
According to liquidators Wilkin Chapman, Ardent Media Ltd had already hit financial difficulty before Covid due to an investment issue with a US company that could not pay back what it owed.
Ardent Media therefore went into a voluntary arrangement to pay creditors back over a set period of time, but this was hindered by the coronavirus crisis and the company instead went into voluntary liquidation.
According to Wilkin Chapman, the company went into liquidation owing about £65,000 to staff for holiday, redundancy and notice pay and about £219,000 to trade and expense creditors, including freelance contributors.
HMRC is owed £270,000 and Dent as director was left with £222,000 outstanding.
The process has now begun of trying to sell off the company’s assets and speaking to interested parties, and Dent said there are likely investors meaning “the brand will survive”.
Dent said about 50% of the scrapped content for the April magazines can likely be repurposed, but the rest would have been time sensitive copy.
There were about eight permanent members of staff based in London who were furloughed in April, and Dent said he is “hopeful” he can bring them all back with the magazine’s relaunch. The websites were kept running with the use of freelance contractors.
A group of travel media leaders spoke to Press Gazette back in April with their initial take on the crisis: many decided to focus on positive stories for the industry and work with competitors to get through it.
Like Dent, they also foresaw a “pent up demand” for travel once permitted – the only question is when this will become a more permanent prospect again.
Family Traveller magazine had an average circulation of about 35,000 in 2017, according to the latest available ABC figures.