How travel is driving The Telegraph’s e-commerce business

There’s more than one way for publishers to build an e-commerce strategy. The Telegraph believes that its habit of creating a substantial amount of travel content and its engaged readership puts it ahead of others.

The Telegraph has built out its e-commerce business for the last 18 months as a way of diversifying revenue streams. It predicts e-commerce will overtake advertising as a portion of its total revenue in three to five years. Travel is the most mature commerce sector for The Telegraph.

“E-commerce makes up a significant part — but not the majority — of revenue at the moment,” said Nick Hugh, COO at Telegraph Media Group. “It’s had high growth, north of 50 percent, but not triple digit, and that’s not from a tiny base. That’s testament to the opportunity that sits in front of us on the travel side.” Hugh was unable to share exactly how much e-commerce brings in for the business, as Telegraph Media Group is a private company.

“Our editorial mission is to inform our readers; we want to open their minds up to places,” he said, adding that a commercial editorial team separate from The Telegraph’s journalists creates all content with an e-commerce element. “The role here is to then provide the commercial opportunity that will add value to our customers. Anyone can put an affiliate link on their site. We always ask, ‘Are we adding value to users?’”

Not all of the travel content The Telegraph produces has an e-commerce link. Most are list-based, but there’s also news, like BA offering free flights for children. Lists, like the top 10 best hotels in Dubrovnik, chosen by Telegraph travel experts, link to the travel aggregator, pulling in its API feed so readers can carry out transactions.

At the other end of the scale, Telegraph Tours and Ultimate Itineraries — such as a nine-day South African railway tour with Jeremy Paxman and an eight-day Christmas cruise down the Danube with Mary Berry — are trips The Telegraph’s commercial writers plan that tour operators execute exclusively for Telegraph readers. The publisher works with a few dozen operators and takes a cut of the overall transaction.

These trips cost around £4,000 (about $5,151). When parting with this much money, it’s natural to want to deal with a human being, so a number of transactions are carried out over the phone with travel partners.

The Telegraph has a commercial team of 50 people within the travel section, including editors, marketers, traders, product managers, customer service representatives and engineers. Twenty-five of the 50 staffers manage e-commerce.

“Not many U.K. news nationals have pushed far into e-commerce,” said Thomas Caldecott, a senior research analyst at Enders Analysis. “The potential is there.” One example is MailOnline, which introduced Fashion Finder in 2013 to let readers shop celebrities’ looks. But the Telegraph has long run a large travel supplement in its print edition, so it already has good relationships with travel advertisers and operators, Caldecott said.

The Telegraph is starting to implement e-commerce to its finance section and is hiring a handful of people to manage e-commerce opportunities. “Our strength will always be to provide independent information to help readers make choices on how to pick the right financial service,” said Hugh. With articles like “Best cash Isa 2017: our favourite variable rate accounts,” it seems like e-commerce will be a good fit for the section.

Diversifying revenue streams is a priority for all publishers that have been overdependent on ad revenue. The Telegraph has gone full throttle, introducing its Premium subscription model at the end of last year, which grew subscribers by 300 percent in the first four months. It has also developed its events business, running about 50 events a year for consumers and businesses. Events have included Be:Fit London, The Telegraph Gin Experience and The Telegraph Ski & Snowboard Show.

“The way we think about diversification is: Can it sustain itself as a business in its own right?” said Hugh. “This definitely has the legs.”

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