CNN rolls out a new travel vertical

Verticals are hot in media. CNN is taking the wraps off CNN Travel, a new vertical site that will provide people with travel recommendations for families. It launches with a staff or 10, with aspirations to triple that by the end of the year.

The site will focus on travel recommendations. At launch, CNN Travel offers illustrated city guides of world capitals ranging from Dubai to New York, which include suggestions on where to eat in certain locations and so on. Instead of the news junkies it draws to its parent site, CNN Travel is meant to lure people planning getaways. In the coming months, it will launch podcasts, a live events business and will press further into video. In addition to the core edit team, CNN Travel may tap into a network of 800 contributors around the world.

“There will be quite a lot of destination-based content around experience and where to stay, practical advice,” said Ed O’Keefe, CNN’s svp of premium digital content.

Unlike many other publishers, which stash new verticals inside their motherships, CNN has its own URL,, and is expected to ultimately exist as a standalone site, with an audience built through SEO.

“We’re not creating a subvertical of CNN hoping we might scrape up some more display business,” O’Keefe added. “We’re thinking of these investments as independent businesses.”

The hope for this independent business, which O’Keefe likened to a well-capitalized startup, is that it taps into the so-called “endemic” advertising in particular categories. With CNN Travel, the aim is to appeal to the wide swath of airlines, hotels, cruises and resorts looking for a more specialized audience than a broad general news site. That effort has begun auspiciously: Its launch sponsor is Hilton.

“They’re not going to be next to Comey news,” O’Keefe said of CNN Travel’s advertisers. “That’s something within the CNN repertoire that’s helpful for traditional advertisements we might want to take.”

CNN Travel is also the latest in a batch of recent vertical launches CNN has made. CNN Tech, overseen by former Bloomberg vet Sam Grobart, bowed just a couple weeks ago, and CNN Politics, grew substantially during the recent election season and has motored along since.

But where politics is something primed for social, CNN Travel as a site (and as a category) is geared toward performing well in search. To get there, CNN Travel needs to have content on all the locations that readers — and advertisers — might find interesting. It doesn’t have that all mapped out yet, but the site’s edit staff has spent the past nine months getting those things ready under the direction of its executive editor, Brekke Fletcher, whom O’Keefe plucked from WSJ. Magazine.

As it continues to build its list, the site will also be able to rely, to an extent, on programming from CNN’s linear programming. At launch, CNN Travel will feature a weekly video adapted from “The Wonder List with Bill Weir,” a TV show in its second season. Provided the videos are a hit with Travel’s audience, the goal is to ramp that up to a daily video installment.

What CNN Travel will not feature, for the time being, is content from “Parts Unknown,” the popular show hosted by former chef Anthony Bourdain. While there is a slight overlap between the “Parts Unknown” audience and the audience O’Keefe hopes CNN Travel will attract, it is slight. “We look at Travel as the soft Instagram filter to the hard look that is ‘Parts Unknown,'” he said.

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