In keeping with the travel theme of our March issue, BookPage chatted with Fodor's publisher Tim Jarrell about the history of his company—which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year—and the future of the travel guidebook industry.
Eugene Fodor lived an unusual life—a native Hungarian and naturalized U.S. citizen, he worked for the OSS during World War II. During the Cold War, some of his writers were spies placed by the CIA. Probably a similar skill set! What do you think Fodor's most important legacy was?
Eugene Fodor possessed an insatiable curiosity about the world and its people. From his first job sailing along with cruise ships across the Mediterranean and Atlantic, Fodor was constantly motivated to experience new cultures, communities and sights.
He brought this passion to the page, and in turn inspired a whole generation to explore new destinations. Fodor’s belief was that the beauty of travel was not only seeing the great monuments of the past but experiencing a place as it was in the present—and this included interacting with the people that lived there. As he writes in the forward of his first guidebook On the Continent, “Rome contains not only magnificent monuments . . . but also Italians.”
Subsequently, Fodor was the first publisher to include cultural information in his guides. He forever changed the guidebook market and the way people viewed the world around them.
How has the travel publishing world changed since Fodor released his first guide in 1936?
In 1936 it was typically only the very wealthy that could afford to travel. Oversea vacations required lengthy transportation on ships and a lack of rental cars and poor road conditions generally limited the degree to which individuals could explore a foreign destination on their own. Most saw Europe over a period of weeks in the company of a large group as part of “The Grand Tour.” Publishing reflected these practices—often covering all of Europe in a single title with more focus on famous monuments to visit than off-the-beaten-path sights and were only updated every 10-15 years.
Advances in technology and transportation have, of course, radically changed the needs of travelers today. Fodor’s guidebooks focus on the individual experience so that our readers can craft the perfect trip for them. Guidebooks have also changed in two other essential ways. They include logistical information about hotels, restaurants, and transportation and, because this information is rapidly changing, almost all Fodor’s guidebooks are updated annually (note that Eugene Fodor was the first to implement both of these changes in the guidebook market).
What sets Fodor's apart from other travel guides?
At Fodor’s we believe in offering readers an authentic and reliable experience. We’ve maintained many of Eugene Fodor’s original visions, including publishing guides that focus on the culture and people of a destination, are as accurate as possible with annual updates, and remain on the front edge of travel innovation.
In the past 75 years, we’ve also grown tremendously as a brand. We are the number one imprint in the market for our full-color fully-comprehensive guidebooks. Fodors.com offers travel inspiration and guidance for millions of unique visitors each month and our online forums provide a virtual home for posting and answer questions and sharing travel stories for thousands of loyal fodorites.
What's your best-selling destination of all time?
Over the course of time Italy has remained a prime travel destination. We currently offer several titles to the country and its cities and regions, but the combination of all would make it a frontrunner.
Is there an area of the world you think more people should see?
Americans should spend more time anywhere outside of the United States. Of course, there are fabulous destinations here. But traveling really does broaden horizons— \too few of us see the need go beyond our borders.
As Eugene Fodor said, “What’s important is that we all learn as we travel. We wake up to the fact that everyone has his rights and way of life. In the war we used to say you can’t shoot an enemy soldier who shows you a picture of his family; it’s hard to hate people whose country you’ve visited.”
As a travel publisher, what is your dream vacation?
My dream vacation combines a grand site with a connection to local culture—especially someplace I haven't gone before. And great scenery helps too. Last year, I went to Machu Picchu and traveled across the Alto Plano to Lake Titicaca. You can't help but be moved by the Incan civilization, and Peru is such a fascinating country.
Where do you see travel guides going in the future?
As technology changes, so will readers’ access to travel information. Today our content is disseminated through traditional books, e-books, websites, smartphone apps, downloadable PDFs, Twitter, Facebook . . . the list goes on and on. Mobile access, GPS capabilities, new platforms—these are all game-changers in the industry. We know, however, that the proliferation of travel information leads to a greater need for a trusted source, and so the Fodor’s brand will continue to play a critical role in offering venerable recommendations. We will continue on with both Eugene Fodor’s passion for travel and his willingness to continually innovate the travel publishing industry.