The evolution of

We’ve been taking the road less travelled for the past
30 years via the introduction of the internet, the rise of
social media and a growing global audience

"Why would anyone buy a travel magazine?” said the representative of WHSmith, then by far the biggest retailer of magazines in the UK. “They can get a free brochure from a holiday company.”

It was 1993, and my partner, Paul Morrison, and I had decided to launch a travel magazine, having had the idea on a flight to Ecuador. We knew there must be other people like us who wanted to explore the world and whose idea of travel went far beyond lying by a hotel swimming pool. There had been other travel magazines launched but none had lasted, and many ‘experts’ predicted we would fail too.

Indeed, a few months after we brought out our first issue, put together in our spare room, I was in the audience of a travel-writing talk at the Royal Geographical Society when a speaker mentioned there was a new travel magazine but that it “wouldn’t last”.

Lyn and Paul pose in front of the Sydney Opera House

Lyn and Paul pose in front of the Sydney Opera House

But we were determined. And we knew there was a thirst to read about the world. The 1980s and early ’90s had seen a boom in travel writing; bookshop windows displayed narratives by the likes of Bruce Chatwin, Colin Thubron, Dervla Murphy and Redmond O’Hanlon. But, if you wanted to go out and go to some of these places yourself, there was a real information gap and we were determined to fill it.

Yes, there were guidebooks, with the market dominated by Lonely Planet (which had not long opened a UK office) and Rough Guides, while for certain destinations, Footprint and Bradt Guides were the undoubted experts. But what about the stage before the guidebook? Where did the inspiration come from, and how did you know how and where to choose?

The first ever issue of Wanderlust

The first ever issue of Wanderlust

Covers over the years

Covers over the years

Covers over the years

Covers over the years

Covers over the years

Covers over the years

We knew there was a small but growing band of excellent specialist tour operators out there. If you travelled with the likes of Explore Worldwide (our first advertiser), Journey Latin America or Himalayan Kingdoms (now Mountain Kingdoms), you felt you were part of an exclusive club. And Wanderlust too felt very much a club. We focused on subscriptions rather than shop sales, and our advertisers were the brilliant travel companies who could take people to the furthest corners of the world.

With our first issue we wanted to show we were different from anything else out there. Our front cover was an atmospheric shot of an Andean shepherd rather than of a beach. Inside, we showed local people rather than holidaymakers. We included a dispatch from a Texas park ranger and tackled sustainability head-on with a feature on the impact of mass tourism.

We were practical, covering the nuts and bolts of how to travel. We ran a page (sometimes two) listing the new guidebook releases and, when the time came, we had features on how to use the internet to research your travels.

We had launched at the right time. The Channel Tunnel opened in 1994, making it easier and more affordable to head to France and continental Europe. And then came a revolution in flying with the advent of low-cost airlines. While there had been attempts at budget airlines before, notably Laker Airlines, the ’90s saw several launches, including easyJet in 1995, while Ryanair adopted a new low-fare model.

These new airlines made flying accessible to a wider range of passengers, and led to price wars, with major airlines having to drop their fares. The advent of online searches and booking also contributed to increased competition and to flying becoming more affordable. The world was opening up and the knock-on effect was that long-haul, exotic destinations seemed within reach.

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The Eurostar travels through the Channel Tunnel (Shutterstock)

The Eurostar travels through the Channel Tunnel (Shutterstock)

Ryanair arrived in the 1990s (Shutterstock)

Ryanair arrived in the 1990s (Shutterstock)

More and more specialist tour companies launched, usually set up by enthusiasts who wanted to share their passion. Wildlife Worldwide had started just before us. Wanderlust reader favourite Audley Travel started in 1996 as Asian Journeys, initially focusing on Vietnam. InsideAsia Tours started as InsideJapan in 2000, while Wild Frontiers launched in 2002. These companies are all flourishing today.

Not surprisingly, our competition soon arrived with other magazines launching. The majority failed, perhaps not having a clear enough idea of what they were offering or who their market was. But some did stick, and we were generally glad as it all raised awareness of travel magazines.

After Paul passed away in 2004, we dedicated the magazine to his memory and resolved to keep sharing his passion for travel and seemingly endless curiosity about the world with our loyal readers.

Wanderlust had launched in a recession and another one hit in 2008 with the global financial crisis. Just as we celebrated our 15th anniversary, travel plunged as purse strings tightened, and 2009 was particularly difficult for the travel industry. Even when things picked up, it was a still a challenge for us as we had the closest to a direct competitor we had ever faced, and an aggressive one at that. Plus, the digital revolution had truly arrived and our advertisers were using much cheaper methods of promoting themselves than through a print publication.

We redeveloped our website and, as travel gradually came back, we added a new Trip Finder tool, providing a service to travel companies and readers, plus a Hot Offers section and newsletter. We also launched a community site with a forum, travellers’ tales and, most popular of all, the ability to upload photos to show fellow travellers.

George Kipouros became editor-in-chief of Wanderlust in 2021

George Kipouros became editor-in-chief of Wanderlust in 2021

But then came social media and blogging platforms. With so many online sources of information and content-sharing, our role pivoted again. Where there had originally been an information gap for us to fill, now things had gone the other way, with content factories spewing out poorly researched, generic travel information and a plethora of well-meaning blogs that often suffered from a lack of fact-checking and experience. There was too much information out there and people didn’t know what to believe.

So, we worked hard to reinforce our role as trusted sources of information, using destination experts and the best writers and editors. We upped our storytelling too, constantly striving to inspire our readers to find the best possible and most enriching travel experiences.

The outcome of the Brexit vote caused some uncertainty in travel, and hit us for a while, but nothing prepared us, of course, for the events of 2020 and the pandemic. Just two weeks after we had won Travel Magazine of the Year, we went into lockdown.

Not surprisingly, travel was one of the hardest-hit sectors. The industry, from airlines to tour operators to hotels, had to deal with not just having no new bookings, but also with finding a way to refund those who had been booked to travel.

For Wanderlust too, life was challenging. Readers were still dreaming of travel but shops were closed and many people didn’t want to touch paper that had been through other hands in case it carried the virus. Our advertising fell completely away and even getting new content was a challenge, so we had to be resourceful. We launched virtual reader events, enabling us to connect with readers all around the world, and a highly popular online Friday travel quiz. We still published the magazine, but a skinnier version of it.

It was against this background that Wanderlust passed into new ownership at the start of 2021. With editor-in-chief George Kipouros at the helm, we have really stepped up and evolved our offerings. The magazine is thicker and glossier, and is officially the UK’s number-one travel magazine. We have a new-look website launching soon, and our immersive online articles are simply beautiful. Our podcast is in the top 10% of travel podcasts worldwide. We’re now even in the metaverse and have a growing number of 360-degree features available.

We focus less on the basics of how to travel and more, for instance, on accommodation, with that being an increasingly important factor in people’s trips. With the explosion in travel and plague of overtourism, we take care to highlight the sustainable ways to explore, the places that deserve recognition and the immersive experiences that are the most authentic and rewarding for both locals and visitors. We shine a light on Indigenous experiences around the globe, have more voices in the magazine, and we use a wider and more diverse group of writers.

Our audience has developed too. The world of travel has become more democratic over the past three decades, with more people from more countries travelling than ever before. Digital platforms mean that our readership isn’t just British anymore; indeed, only 50% of the traffic on our current website is from the UK, and you will increasingly find the printed magazine on sale around the world, especially in the USA and in international airports. So, the days are gone when we would solely see the world through the lens of one type of traveller.

What hasn’t changed is the trust between us and our readers. We strive as much as ever to bring you the best destinations and travel experiences on the planet. Here’s to the next 30 years.

Wanderlust's new look

Wanderlust's new look

Wanderlust's new look

Wanderlust's new look

Wanderlust's new look

Wanderlust's new look

Wanderlust's new look

Wanderlust's new look