Perhaps tour operators were wondering why Nancy Berger was attending the USTOA Annual Conference and Marketplace last December.
Berger is senior vice president and publisher of Hearst’s Youth and Wellness Group, which includes Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, Women’s Health and Seventeen magazines, as well as Clevver, a YouTube-based programming brand.
In August, every question operators might have was answered when CosmoTrips was introduced by Cosmopolitan. And in putting together CosmoTrips, Berger also created a case study for how to launch a travel initiative that targets a specific demographic, a process that can benefit tour operators, travel advisors and other consumer brands.
Before the pandemic, Berger noticed that the millennial and Gen Z women on her staff were taking a lot of weekend breaks. And in talking to them, she found that many were traveling with friends and that a significant number were planning the trip for their group.
“There were pain points,” she told me. “They were spending about 16 hours doing the planning. And there was risk — they were often releasing their credit card in hopes that others would Venmo their share.”
She saw an opportunity. She held focus groups during the pandemic to better understand what Cosmo readers wanted when they got together with friends to travel. Then she hired Susan Black Associates to send out requests for proposals to travel companies that might be able to handle the transactional and operational side of travel.
(It ended up contracting with DH Enterprises & Associates, the parent company of Scepter Vacations and contractor for Aer Lingus Vacations.)
In response to reader feedback, she made it a high priority to make it easy for each member of a group to pay their own way (and if they want, use Klarna, a trip now, pay the lender later, to finance it that). She insisted on a robust mobile site for information and booking. “These travelers want pre-planned activities. They don’t want to worry about where to eat, what to do — and we want to give that to them,” she said.
Trips aren’t aimed at luxury travelers: They range from $299 per person for two nights in Austin, Texas, to $699 for two nights in Charleston, excluding transportation. “Most trips will have four people. Most of this demographic wants to travel four times a year, so it can add up very quickly,” Berger said.
“We also realized that a big part of a CosmoTrip would be the extras — the ‘Cosmo Benefits,'” she said. A number of desirable amenities and services were negotiated with the hotels. Each guest will receive a complimentary drink upon arrival (a cosmo, if possible). Some hotels would offer a free poolside cabana. For the trip to Austin, a spin studio, Ride, offered free sessions.
And in addition to the extras, there was an important discount: resort fees are waived for CosmoTrip guests.
One of her preferences is also included: “I’m addicted to good bags,” she said. “I love doing them for every event I’ve ever done. So two weeks before they leave, they get a goody bag of products, or something to help them get ready or something to take with them .”
Berger partnered with Bloomingdales — “Anyone who goes on vacation should do a little shopping beforehand” — and, before launching, held store shows in California, Florida and Manhattan. “Each one was hosted by a local influencer and a Cosmo representative. We’ll be doing more of these.”
Also in preparation for the launch, the publication began placing important travel articles in each issue, and the current issue is the “travel issue”.
Among the articles is one on destination weddings. “Why not tap into all aspects of travel that appeal to this demographic? Highlights like reunions, graduations, milestone birthdays. And Covid-inspired trends like errands and revenge trips.”
Reflecting the fact that much of the planning has been done during Covid, the four initial destinations are local: Austin, New York, West Hollywood and Charleston. Las Vegas, New Orleans and Miami are being planned. “There is a lot of interest in Mexico and the Caribbean for 2023,” Berger said.
In addition to editorial coverage and the “travel as an editor” theme, marketing will also include sending influencers on trips.
“There is social currency that comes from travel experiences,” she said. “These travelers want to show where they’re staying and what they’re eating, every bite on their plate. This reinforces what they’re doing and will inspire others to do the same.”
Can men go on a CosmoTrip? “We don’t talk about gender,” she replied. “It’s Cosmo, so whoever your besties are, we’d never say no to anyone who wants to be a part of Cosmo’s life.”
Or Men’s Health Life? Could this be an option in the future?
“One thing at a time,” she replied. “We will really listen to the CosmoTrip traveler. We are still learning and adapting.”
She stopped. “But I’m open to it.”