With New Look, Let’s Go Guides Hit Shelves

A year after a publisher-commissioned report called the Let’s Go travel guides “out of step,” the series has hit bookstore shelves with a new look and diversified coverage.

“We’ve totally revamped the cover design,” said Megan M. Brumagim ’04, Let’s Go publicity manager. “Our new cover is more eye-catching, with more focus on the destination.”

The critical July 2001 report, sponsored by St. Martin’s Press, contained the results of four San Francisco focus groups with college students and young adults who were asked about the Let’s Go series.

It concluded that the groups’ reactions were so negative that scrapping the Let’s Go brand altogether and starting from scratch might be in the company’s best interest.

However, since the series is mid-way through a five-year contract with St. Martin’s, the publisher is bound to publish the guides through 2006 and cannot require the series to change its content—although it must approve every guide.

This year’s editor-in-chief, Jeffrey B. Dubner ’03, emphasized that there was not a “direct link” between this year’s changes and last year’s criticisms, although he did say that the report “sparked a lot of ideas.”

“Most of the changes were driven by Let’s Go itself,” Brumagim said. “We felt we hadn’t really instituted large-scale changes in a long time. It’s something that we really fueled from within the company.”

Whatever the reasoning behind the changes, the series has a new look inside and out.

The new guides have glossy covers and are printed on higher-quality paper to resist wear and tear, Brumagim said. The books are also more compact to make them easier for travellers to pack, she said.

The guides’ distinctive thumb logo no longer appears on the cover—Brumagim said the logo no longer fit the guides’ style.

“Visually, it’s much more appealing and has a better presence on the shelves,” Dubner said.

Let’s Go currently publishes 41 student-written travel guides—including new guides this year on Chile, Costa Rica, Hawaii and Thailand.

While the guides’ content is still based on budget travel, they have a greater scope of prices for restaurants and accommodations. This newly-expanded range is an effort to appeal to a “broader audience,” including professionals in their 20s who don’t want to stay at youth hostels, Brumagim said.

In addition to reviews spanning a broader budget range, the redesigned Let’s Go guides also include more in-depth writing about local culture and news—as well as anecdotes from guide researchers.

The guides also contain contributions from Harvard professors, Dubner said.

“We had a big push last year to get a better alumni network together,” he said.

The new guides also include interviews with locals, such as a question and answer feature with a sausage vendor outside Fenway Park in Let’s Go Boston 2003.

Editors expect feedback on the redesign from St. Martin’s Press, which is in direct contact with bookstores, according to Brumagim.

Let’s Go also has a redesigned website, www.letsgo.com, with forums where users can post feedback and exchange travel tips.

“What we’ve heard so far has been very positive,” Dubner said.

“The graphics are great and they’re fresh,” said Harriet B. Carrier, a buyer for the Globe Corner Bookstore in Harvard Square. “The formatting inside is remarkably better, and the addition of the black and white photographs is a big plus.”

The broader price range of items included in the guides also “makes them a little more competitive,” she said.