Gulf of understanding

I was lucky, a couple of years ago, to have been put in touch with Andrew Humphreys – formerly an author with Time Out and Lonely Planet (Egypt, Syria et al), ex-freelancer for Condé Nast Traveller etc. He’d just been appointed editor of Gulf Life, the new inflight magazine for Bahrain’s Gulf Air, to be published in London by Ink – and he was on the lookout for writers specialising in the Middle East. I pitched an idea or two, he said yes, and I’ve since become a regular: my two pieces in the current issue – a short look at cricket in Dubai and a longer article about the 19th-century rediscovery of Petra – bring me to 36 commissioned pieces in two years. Thanks, Andrew!

Ink are market leaders, producing 30+ inflight magazines for airlines all over the world, and have won fistfuls of design awards, including for Ryanair. It’s easy to see why. Gulf Air are not exactly the most prestigious of clients – a small, struggling state-owned carrier at the unfashionable end of the Gulf – but rather than copy the kind of instantly forgettable pap that’s churned out for Etihad and Emirates by Dubai-based magazine publishers, they’ve instead created something worthy of newsstand sale. My articles aside, it’s a genuinely interesting monthly about Middle East life and culture, with a dash of Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur and occasionally Paris and London thrown in. Take a look.

Do inflight magazines matter? My impression is they do. If they’re rubbish (which, let’s face it, most still are), all they do is reinforce to Ms/Mr Traveller the sense that both the airline and the destination it ‘represents’ are rubbish: at worst (stand up Air Malta and Saudi Airlines), they turn the airline and the destination into a laughing stock. At best (Gulf, Swiss, Air Canada) they lead you intelligently into the culture and the outlook of your destination while still in midair.

And for the hard-pressed travel writer, inflight magazines are a godsend: I write for 8 or 10 of them, and would find it that much harder to make ends meet without them.

2 Comments

  1. David Whitley

    I think in-flights should be regarded like any other magazine. Look on the newstands – including in the travel section – and most are filled with utter pap. I don’t exclude the big name travel mags from this, incidentally: most are guilty of blandified, advertising-led travel porn.

    I’ve written for a couple, but Voyeur for Virgin Blue in Australia is the only one that I could class as a semi-regular gig. I like Voyeur – it’s perky, and goes beyond the usual washed-out trave writing monotony. Importantly, it fits the airline image.

    There’s certainly plenty of room for a good in-flight magazine, though. The problem is that some airlines will work on a captive audience principle and fill it with any old shite.

  2. Matthew Teller

    Spot on, David, especially about the ‘captive audience’ principle. The point is, if only the airlines realised that, since they’ve got a captive audience for their inflight mag, they could really push the boat out and do something eye-catching and unusual to promote their destinations (and showcase their home country and culture), instead of just reverting to the lowest common denominator every time.

    In what other field of publishing is a targeted readership presented with a magazine without charge and given loads of leisure time in which to read it? What an opportunity! And, 95% of the time, what a waste!

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