Editor’s Note: On June 18, 2019, The Washington Post launched By The Way, a highly visual travel guide that uses local writers to tell their hometown’s best-kept secrets. It also is filled with travel news and trends to make travel less challenging and more enjoyable. We talked with Amanda Finnegan, editor of By The Way, to learn more about how it came about and how it is changing the travel experience for readers.
Q: What discussions/needs identified led to launching By the Way in June?
A: We knew the way people are traveling had shifted in recent years. Travelers, especially Millennials, want a more authentic experience; they want to feel connected to the people and culture of a place. We looked at what was out there and found a lot of the same themes: travel content is often hyper-aspirational, full of the same old sights, or pay-for-play.
The Post already did feature-length travel journalism well, but we wanted to offer readers something different and accessible. We started to think, “What if we did guides to the world’s best cities and only focused on insider favourites and hidden gems?” We felt that could only be done by trusted local journalists who call those cities home. It may seem like a no-brainer, but we weren’t seeing it there from trusted sources. We committed to an ethos that every story and guide would be accessible advice travelers could actually use.
Next, we tested our concept with existing and potential Post subscribers and found it resonated with all age groups, not just Millennials. The concept did exceptionally well, impressing even our research team. Once we got the green light, we began building prototypes, assembling our staff, and vetting writers to get our City Guide database ready for launch in June.
Q: Did you add new staff?
A: We hired a team of 12 — including two full-time reporters — and work with more than 200 writers, photographers, and illustrators around the world.
By The Way’s tips reporter, Natalie B. Compton, has been to 50 countries as a freelance travel journalist. She’s done everything from travel to Japan alone to spend 12 hours in an airport to observe the strangeness of life there. Hannah Sampson, our news and trends reporter, is a seasoned writer who has reported on the travel industry for nearly 10 years.
Q: How was this initiative marketed to readers?
A: By The Way is for travelers who want a local experience in some of the most popular destinations in the world, as well as expert tips and news to make them a smarter traveler.
Our goal has always been to give readers news they can use and advice from trusted insiders and experts. Instead of sending reporters around the world to drop in on a place, our guides to nearly 70 cities worldwide are written exclusively by hometown journalists and authors who know the cities best. Their perspectives capture local favourites and hidden gems in each city. Everyone knows about the Louvre; we will tell you why the Palais de Tokyo is the next museum in Paris you should visit.
We hope each City Guide captures their personality as well. We wanted readers to feel connected to By The Way’s writers, so every guide features a section on where the author lives, what they’d miss most, and the one thing you can’t miss while visiting.
Q: How is Instagram/social media used for the initiative?
A: Instagram is a natural home for travel. We knew we wanted to build a community there — but without the unrealistic, hyper-aspirational photos many accounts and influencers put out there. We see Instagram as a place to engage our more than 26,000 followers and reflect the realities of travel today.
We feature reader-submitted photos and connect with our followers through polls, Q&As with our city writers, and giveaways. By The Way’s news and tips reporters use Instagram as a sounding board, both sourcing coverage and answering questions. We’ve even posted real travel debates we’ve had on our staff.
Our Instagram account is one of the main avenues we use to showcase our City Guides. Each week readers are directed from our newsletter to Instagram to vote on which city they’d like to see featured next week. We reveal the city each Monday with a set of clues and promote the city through videos and photos that week. Through Instagram Stories, our City Guide writers talk to followers directly. They can show their favourite things, such as their favourite restaurants, things they’d miss most about their city, and the best way to get around town.
Q: Six months in, how is engagement going? How many readers subscribe to the weekly newsletter?
A: By The Way has done exceptionally well in the crowded travel space. Since June, we have gained more than 26,000 Instagram followers and have seen steady growth in newsletter subscribers. Our weekly newsletter is one of the most popular in The Post’s portfolio and continues to grow. We’ve had callouts from travel guru Rick Steves and hear from readers every day who have used our City Guides.
Q: Any lessons learned? Have you made any shifts in your strategy since June?
A: We continue to grow our portfolio of City Guides, adding a new city each week. We saw readers were really interested in international cities, so we expanded our reach in response.
Our first six months have reinforced that travel struggles are universal — and everyone has a hot take. Should you recline your seat? How close can you cut your airport arrival time? What are the rules for the window seat? What’s the best way to unpack? We’ve found a space in navigating these debates. Not only do readers want a place for trusted travel advice, but they also want a community where they can commiserate, and By The Way has provided that.