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Traveler Takes Flight, Piloted By Pilar Guzman

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(NEW YORK) Time for a riveting Media Issue feature from fash week you might’ve missed while dashing from show to show! Fresh off a stint helming Martha Stewart Living, redesign-loving editrix Pilar Guzman is back at her old Cookie stomping grounds, and tasked with pumping out a shiny new iteration of Condé Nast Traveler. All aboard!
BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV

What brought you over to Traveler?
It’s a dream job. After college, I was travel writing for The Berkeley Guides. It was like what Let’s Go was to Harvard. I was at Epicurious Travel, which became Concierge with the first wave of the internet, like 150 years ago. Then I bounced around between food, travel, lifestyle, design. I’ve come full circle.

Did it feel like the right time to leave Martha Stewart Living?
Martha was one of the very few places I ever really wanted to work. Our redesign at Martha Stewart was well underway. It was great to help refresh a brand I love so much. 

Sounds like your new gig. You must love a good revamp.
I do! You have to love a brand a lot to give it the right refresh. But you also have to be bold to make a difference. 

How are you doing that at Traveler?
The big choices involve photography. Our eyes have been retrained by social media—a constant onslaught of visual inspiration. 

Will that shift the roster of talent?
There are new photographers. We’re also using long-standing relationships with photographers, stylists, shopkeepers, and designers, who are the best travelers you’ll ever know. Instead of saying, ‘We want to do a story on this place and here’s your shot list,’ we’ve inverted the process. 

How so?
We start from a place of passion and work backwards. You can have a beautiful picture of a herd of zebras, but it might not deliver on that joy factor. It’s about writers’ passion, too. It’s not just, ‘We want to send you to Zimbabwe, give us 2,000 words.’

Will this tweak the magazine’s flow?
We still have a front-of-book, we still have a really beefy well. We still have long-format! It is just not all long-format.

Is the redesign intended to lure new readers?
Affluence has gotten younger, so we need to address that. There are now more millionaire and billionaire 30-somethings, and they’re traveling. 

When you arrived here, were you given marching orders?
No. There are certain digital and print integration goals. That’s a huge reason why I wanted this job: the potential is endless in digital. Every lifestyle category is on steroids when you travel. Food is more exciting, and I only shop when I’m traveling, since that’s when I have time.

What’s the mag’s policy on swag?
We always pay our way. In order to cover the world in the way we need to, we’ll take press rates. But we don’t do junkets, and we don’t take free trips.

How have you staffed up?
I brought my creative director, Yolanda Edwards, with me from Martha Stewart; she’d also been with me as photo editor then travel editor at Cookie. We also launched a parenting blog together, MomFilter. We’ve been together for a long time!

Is it stressful to let people go?
It’s horrible. For the culture or product to change quickly, personnel changes have to be made. It’s never easy.

Will the mag be more fashion-focused?
Fashion will be baked into our DNA. We’ll have market pages; there’s also the element of fantasy in travel: ‘I want to be in Morocco, wearing a caftan.’ You get inspired by how people live in a certain place, and you want to bring it back.

Random quandary: There’s another Pilar in the glossy glut, T’s Pilar Viladas. Do you ever get her mail?
I don’t get her mail, but I get confused with her at events. I’ve known her for years; she’s a legend! When I was starting out, I was happy to be mistaken for her.

Was Cookie ahead of its time?
I know people miss it. Interestingly, the most missed thing was travel. There’s a huge hole in the parenting world for interesting, exotic travel. Some parents want to travel the way they did before having kids. They’re getting bolder. 

Why the ballsier sojourns?
The world is getting smaller, and it’s easier to travel. It’s no longer about the trip of the lifetime. A restaurant opening can be an excuse to get on a plane.

Still talk to your old boss, Martha?
Yes. Actually, she’ll be on our back page in April. It’s part of our new DNA: to ID people whose travel styles we admire.

What’s a jaunt with Martha like?
You’re in Florida, at a down and dirty oyster bar and five-star restaurant in the same night. She’s always pursuing the authentic.

Best trip you’ve ever been on?
I wrote the first Fodor’s guide to East Asia after the Vietnam War, in 1996, right after it opened to Westerners. I was there for four months alone, and there was a combination of youth, fear, and excitement that was super exhilarating. You never grow more than when you travel alone. 

Where haven’t you traveled yet?
God, there are a million places. I haven’t been to China, so that’s a big one!

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