With a new weekly page, the Travel desk hopes to offer readers a taste of one-of-a-kind locales.
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If you thought The New York Times’s Travel coverage was grounded on the tarmac during the pandemic, think again.
With travel regulations changing by the day — and, sometimes, by the hour — the desk has been busier than ever trying to keep readers informed. There are actually more reporters on staff than there were before the pandemic, said Amy Virshup, the Travel editor. In April 2020, a new section called “At Home,” which helped readers cope with confinement, replaced the eight- to 10-page Sunday Travel section. (“At Home” ran until May 2021.) But travel stories have continued to run in other sections of the paper, such as an article on why airline customer service has been so terrible during the pandemic, which landed on the cover of the Business section.
But readers who opened The Times on Nov. 22 were in for a surprise — and a dose of wanderlust. After a year and a half, Travel was back in print with a feature about fly fishing in Italy. The redesigned one-page section will run every Monday. (On this week’s page, a writer journeys through coastal Virginia, New York, New Orleans and other locales to learn about the lore surrounding oysters.)
In a conversation, Ms. Virshup and Elisabeth Goodridge, the desk’s deputy editor, discussed their goals for the section, returning to traditional Travel stories and how the pandemic might change their coverage. Their answers have been edited.
Why did you decide to launch a print Travel page now?
AMY VIRSHUP: We’ve been focused on news and service stories, which can run in other sections. If we do a story about the cruise industry, that could run in Business, or maybe in National or International. But there’s a certain kind of travel story — the wonderful destination piece where you can luxuriate in the place itself, often written in the first person — that just doesn’t feel right in any other section.
What was your thinking behind the redesign?
VIRSHUP: One of the things we’re trying to do is showcase our beautiful photography. We did that piece about fly fishing in Italy, and the pictures were just spectacular. We hope the page will serve as a place for old-fashioned travel inspiration.
With variants of the coronavirus working their way around the world, how are you planning and assigning stories?
ELISABETH GOODRIDGE: We’ve had to be very careful, because rules and restrictions have changed almost daily. With this new variant, Omicron, countries have been shutting down again, or making the re-entry rules much stricter. We’re trying to make sure we’re providing up-to-date information to our travelers.
Are you relying more on freelance writers and photographers who already live in the places you cover?
VIRSHUP: Our travel news coverage has always been more staff- than freelance-driven. But we’ve been sending people on big trips less, and more often, we’ve been using people who are in an area to report on that area. Right now, if people pitch me on a big trip to Europe, I have to think: Can a person actually go there, and will they feel comfortable going there? Are we going to run into restrictions that will be a problem when we try to publish this? Can we send a photographer?
GOODRIDGE: We’re also thinking about not only whether these countries are open, but do they have high rates of Covid, and should we actually be writing stories that encourage travel?
Do you think the pandemic will change how people travel long term?
GOODRIDGE: I think travelers will keep going to vacation homes with their families. We’re also still seeing a huge demand for national parks and state parks — people are still getting outdoors, which makes sense with social distancing.
What did you start doing in your coverage during the pandemic that you want to continue to do?
VIRSHUP: Travel was never really a news desk. But when the pandemic hit, it became clear that we needed to tell people in real time what they needed to know to be safe and comfortable while traveling, and we started focusing more on daily stories. So we’ll keep doing that even as we get back to the more gorgeous, inspirational pieces.
Do you have any big dreams for Travel coverage going forward?
VIRSHUP: Eventually I’d love to be able to get back to covering the world in all its glory — to be able to not only send people around the world again, but to encourage that. But there’s no timetable on that. It all depends on how the pandemic goes.