When it comes to magazine acquisitions, travel titles may not seem an obvious choice during a pandemic. That is unless you’re Wyndham Destinations.
It was revealed Wednesday that the Orlando, Fla.-based timeshare company paid Meredith Corp., the publisher of People and InStyle, $100 million for Travel + Leisure despite the travel industry largely grinding to a halt on an international scale. The deal was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Explaining its decision, Michael D. Brown, president and chief executive officer of Wyndham Destinations, who is clearly playing the long game and betting travel will bounce back, said the deal gives it access to a global audience of 35 million followers across multiple platforms and nearly 60,000 Travel + Leisure travel club members.
“Over the past 18 months we have laid the foundation to expand our footprint beyond our core vacation ownership business, and today we add one of the most trusted and influential brands in travel through the acquisition of Travel + Leisure,” he continued. “This iconic brand, along with its authoritative content and wide audience, will help accelerate and amplify the growth of new capital-light travel businesses and services as we take the next step in expanding our reach within the global leisure travel industry.”
Wyndham Destinations plans to change its name to Travel + Leisure Co. and will expand its portfolio through various branded products and offerings. As for day-to-day operations, Meredith will continue to operate and Travel + Leisure under a 30-year royalty-free, renewable licensing relationship, while Jacqui Gifford will remain in place as editor in chief.
Gifford told WWD that Travel + Leisure, which is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary, has stuck to its monthly frequency despite the pandemic, making it the only monthly travel magazine in the U.S. Condé Nast Traveler published eight issues in 2020, the same as in 2019. Travel + Leisure’s website also hit a record high of 13 million unique visitors in November, according to Gifford. She believes this was due to her staff finding creative ways to cover travel, such as an article on virtual tours of museums around the world, one of its most viewed stories in 2020.
“I think that the name and prestige of Travel + Leisure is what most attracted Wyndham as they look to create this whole new entity,” she said.
In a statement, Tom Harty, chairman and CEO of Meredith, signaled that more deals like this could be on the horizon. “This is a great demonstration of the value that strong brands deliver when expanded beyond the media space, and we look forward to developing more of these creative, value-enhancing programs across our portfolio,” he said.
Travel + Leisure came under Meredith’s control in 2018 through its $2.8 billion acquisition of Time Inc. At the time it was among a handful of titles, including People and InStyle, that the group decided to keep, while it found buyers for the likes of Time, Sports Illustrated and Fortune.
Most recently, like much of the media industry, Meredith has been impacted by the coronavirus crisis, which has weighed heavily on already fragile advertising revenues. As a result, the company laid off 180 staffers and paused its dividend. It also cut pay, but that has since been reinstated in full.
But in a presentation at the Citi 2021 Global TMT West virtual conference on Wednesday, the company is expected to tell investors that the fiscal year 2021 is off to “an encouraging start” and that preliminary political advertising revenues for the six months ended December 31 are about $165 million.
Meredith will reiterate that its top priority is to continue to reduce debt from its acquisition of Time Inc. three years ago. The sale of Travel + Leisure will no doubt help in this mission, as will Wyndham Destinations agreeing to a five-year marketing commitment across Meredith’s portfolio of brands as part of the deal.
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