WhereTraveler New Orleans Ceasing Publication After 55 Years

NEW ORLEANS — The May issue of WhereTraveler New Orleans will be its last.

After 55 years, the tourism-focused publication, which is distributed for free in hotels and visitor centers, is ceasing publication and closing its office at 307 Royal Street. 

For Doug Brantley, the magazine’s sole full-time editorial employee, it’s the disappointing end of an era — and of a job he’s loved doing for the last 24 years.

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“It was a great gig to have, but it also served a real need,” Brantley said on April 23 while taking a break from cleaning out his office above a candy shop and art gallery on Royal. “We’ve gotten so many calls and messages from concierges at hotels and from the visitor centers. They’re wondering what they’re going to do, because as much as people plan online before a trip, they still like something in hand. We were always very popular not even not just with visitors, but even among locals.”

Doug Brantley

When Brantley joined WhereTraveler in the year 2000, the magazine then known as Where was distributing about 70,000 issues each month. It had about 20 full-time employees. Now, although the publication still distributes about 35,000 copies each month, it is staffed only by Brantley and publisher Lois Sutton.

A key reason for WhereTraveler’s demise is undoubtedly the emergence of digital media and the struggle for advertising dollars that came along with it. In addition, Brantley said there have been a number of challenges during his tenure that have made the job harder. Some were global in nature and some were specific to this market.

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“The hits just kept coming,” he said. “In 2001, there was 911. Then there was Katrina in 2005. And then the recession hit, and then we had the BP oil spill, and then COVID.”

After Katrina, the editorial team essentially shrunk to Brantley and a group of freelancers. This lean mode of operation allowed the publication to stay profitable up until the COVID, which Brantley thinks was the last straw for WhereTraveler New Orleans’ current owners — Morris Communications, headquartered in Augusta, Ga. The privately held media company decided to shut things down for good this month.

“We’re ad dependent,” said Brantley. “Our standard before COVID was an editorial-to-ad ratio of about sixty-forty. And now it’s sort of flipped. The ad revenue just never really bounced back after COVID. Hotels took us out of the rooms, because they wanted to go ‘touchless,’ and we had had to spend time rebuilding those relationships and getting back into rooms, and it just didn’t really take off, you know?”

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The Where brand itself was born nearly 90 years ago and spread around the globe in the decades that followed. Brantley said that, at the height of the brand, there were 47 different publications licensing the name. Morris bought the majority of them in the early 2000s, but efforts to bring the brand into the digital age didn’t pan out. Most titles have disappeared or been renamed, and Brantley believes the only active WhereTraveler publication is in St. Louis.

There’s one obstacle to the brand’s survival that no one could have foreseen back in the 1930s: Google, the world’s most popular internet search engine by far, disregards words like “where” and “how” in searches because they typically “carry very little useful information and slow down the process,” according to one online search expert. 

When your brand name is a word that’s omitted from online searches, it clearly presents problems. A quick Google search reinforces this theory, since searching “Where Magazine” turns up no current content from any market and, Wikipedia included, very little background information about the publications that were once ubiquitous in hotel lobbies in major cities around the globe.

That unfortunate circumstance no doubt led Morris Communications to rebranded Where as WhereTraveler in April 2019, the same time it transitioned the publication to digest size. But the change was too little, too late. Later that year, Morris sold off the majority of its WhereTraveler markets along with accompanying website. The company only kept titles in New Orleans, St. Louis and several cities in Florida.

Now, for anyone curious to see back issues of WhereTraveler New Orleans, a visit to the Historic New Orleans Collection will soon be the only way to go. Staffers from the museum are picking up an archive of back issues from the publication’s Royal Street office this week.

“The archive is going to live on,” said Brantley. “It shows the legacy of the hospitality industry in New Orleans. In 1968, we started as a weekly, and it was really just movie listings and that sort of thing. A pamphlet almost. By the 1970s, we started doing feature stories. In the 2000s, when Kevin Allman was the editor, we got into a lot more features.”

For Brantley, it’s time to help secure the archive, clean out the office and then plan his next chapter. So he can be forgiven for feeling a little nostalgic when reflecting on the last quarter century.

“I lived here for a little bit when I was a kid but but coming back as an adult was a chance to learn about and really embrace New Orleans,” he said. “There’s so much history, and so many stories and traditions. I love this place and I hope it came through in my writing.” 

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