Gifford, who was born in Japan, and lived in Saudi Arabia and Qatar before she moved to the United States to go to university, inherited the travel bug at an early age.
“My parents were really adventurous travellers,” she explained in an interview. “It astounds me to think they went to, and brought me with them, to places like Hong Kong, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Kenya, back in the early 1980s, when people were travelling but not in the same way they are today.”
Gifford inherited a spirit and hunger for adventure, and exposure to different cultures and places made her open-minded, flexible and nimble. She says she didn’t always know she wanted to be in magazines, but as a Princeton English major, she had an appetite for books and reading. She explained that she ended up falling into magazines as a career and falling in love with the business.
“Through a series of positions at different brands, I got into the travel space, which was a natural fit because of my background,” Gifford explained. “I grew up reading Travel + Leisure, it was always the pre-eminent travel brand. I would read longtime Travel + Leisure editor-in-chief Nancy Novogrod editor’s letters, and want to go to every place she had been.”
Now, Gifford shares her love of travel with the world.
Taking over the editorship at Travel +Leisure is a dream job for Gifford, and she looks forward to driving the conversation about the travel business. “What I would like to bring to the brand is my strong understanding of the travel business. I’m a young mother and I think family travel, multi-generational travel is something that people continue to talk about because it’s a really growing segment of the market,” she said. “I’d like to tell more stories from that perspective.”
As Travel+Leisure evolves, Gifford wants to bring in more diverse voices, and her time is spent thinking about how the title can cover travel differently, digitally, and reach younger travellers, as well as their older, affluent core audience. It’s a challenge for the next year, one Gifford is looking forward to. “How do you stay true to that original mission while thinking outside the box and reaching new people on platforms like Instagram?”
“I’d like to bring more fresh and diverse voices to our pages, specifically more female voices,” she said. “When one of our writers visits a destination, we want to focus on helping our readers understand why they should travel there based on interactions with the locals and culture, versus just providing a list of place people should visit.”
Gifford wants the title to evolve visually, in print and online. It’s part of her strategy going forward to figure out what is going to drive inspiration and action. “We continue to keep investing an incredible amount into photography, and its so important, because travel first and foremost is a visual medium. I plan to incorporate bolder photography into the pages of Travel + Leisure to reflect and amplify the luxurious experience of our product,” she said. “How can we surprise people? How can we show them something they haven’t seen before, when they’re one click away on their phone?”
Gifford is also helming the travel brand at a time when locals in some of the planet’s beauty spots complain about the sheer volume of tourists, from Barcelona to Thailand. She explained that the issue really comes back to a more fundamental question.
“What does tourism do for a destination? Help it and the economy and the people—or hurt it, if that place happens to be a fragile environment?” she explained. “By and large, I believe that tourism is a force for good and if a destination is compelling we must share it with our readers. Overtourism is a concern, to be sure, with some destinations—Machu Picchu and Venice, for example. I believe we can add to the conversation by telling our audience to be sensitive to that fact. If they choose to visit those places, we can help them think of ways to minimise their footprint or have a slightly different experience than the norm.”
People around the world are travelling now more than ever. According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), and the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourist arrivals grew by seven per cent to reach a total of 1,322 million in in 2017.
Travel brings people together, Gifford said, and and makes them more understanding and empathetic of other people and cultures. “We truly believe it’s a force of good,” she said. “Travel + Leisure is unique because we get to work with the most knowledgeable and passionate experts in the industry, so we feel lucky to be able to shape this conversation and ed-ucate others about journeys and experiences worth taking.”
Though Travel + Leisure began as a magazine, but it has been more than a magazine for quite some time, Gifford explained. “Our readers can find Travel + Leisure wherever they want to consume it, whether in print, digital, social, or through our many newsletters,” she said.
“Our readers come to Travel + Leisure because we’re the preeminent voice for the sophisticated traveler. As the only monthly in the category, we continue to serve our readers by providing them the content they love, which includes the most immersive, inspiring travel lifestyle content anywhere, as well as beautiful, thought-provoking photography.”
Into 2019 and beyond, Gifford revealed that the brand will continue to innovate and test new technologies and formats where it makes sense, and also new revenue streams. For example, in December, they launched a series of editor-led trips for their readers – the inaugural trip will be to Rome and Puglia – which plays off their franchise reader survey, she said. “Our photo director, Scott Hall, is leading the first trip to Italy in September,” Gifford said. “I am leading one to Napa in October. I do believe it’s key to retain your audience, but if you aren’t seeking out new readers and followers, you are missing out.”
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