Shortly before starting OutThere magazine, Uwern Jong went travelling in Cambodia. One morning, he rose before dawn, determined to be the first person to climb Angkor Watt that day and receive a blessing in return. But after a strenuous climb, he got to the top only to find he’d been beaten to the summit by an elderly Canadian woman on crutches. They got talking and she revealed she was dying from terminal cancer. Then she gave him some advice: “If there’s something you really want to do, go out and do it, because if you don’t, you’ll always regret it.” He came home and started OutThere, a luxury travel magazine for the LGBT+ market.
In 2020, OutThere won the PPA Diversity Initiative of the Year award, but as its ‘Experientialist-in-Chief’ Jong points out: “Actually, our submission was all about how diversity shouldn’t be an initiative at all. Diversity should be ingrained into the very fabric of your everyday and we demonstrated how that was the way we worked at OutThere and that’s what led us to win.”
Last year, the PPA published its first ever Diversity and Inclusion Survey, interviewing 5,786 people from across 44 PPA member companies, showing there is still more to be done to make the publishing industry representative of the population as a whole.
Jong believes the first step for any small to medium sized publishing company is to draw up a diversity strategy.
“Look at your board, look at representation across your company. Do you have those people within your company? Beyond that, look at your story-telling, look at your advertising, look at the way you market yourself. Are you talking to a populace that are far more diverse than ever before?”
OutThere began life as a kitchen table magazine covering arts and culture, fashion and travel. But Jong and his business partner Martin Perry soon discovered that fashion advertisers like to be in a fashion magazine and travel advertisers in a travel magazine. They split the title into OutThere, covering arts and culture, OutThere Style and OutThere Travel. When the latter sky-rocketed, it made commercial sense to drop the other titles and concentrate on travel.
Jong explains: “Mainstream publications weren’t being very diverse or inclusive when it came to travel storytelling. LGBT+ publications were very fixed on telling stories about how we’re supposed to live our lives as a gay person and we felt we didn’t necessarily fit into that mould. We wanted to see the world like everybody else, but we wanted to see it safe and we wanted to be celebrated and welcome wherever we went.”
Mainstream publications weren’t being very diverse or inclusive when it came to travel storytelling.
The three Ds
OutThere is now a quarterly “coffee table” magazine, with a foil masthead, soft touch covers and a hundred per cent recycled textured paper. Inside, is lots of sumptuous photography, together with long form, but easy to digest travel journalism. The magazine’s strapline is the three Ds: Diversity, Discovery and Discernment.
But diversity has proved a more complex issue than the magazine’s founders at first realised. They began to notice that as well as their gay male target audience, they were also attracting well-heeled solo female travellers.
“We had to go and work out why, so we did a little bit of research and we found out that the travel concerns of a solo female traveller were identical to that of a gay man. They wanted the security, they enjoyed luxury and the finer things in life, but they also wanted to be respected,” says Jong.
He acknowledges his team is all male, so for the recent ‘Spellbinding Scotland’ issue, they countered this by using entirely female freelancers.
As a business straddling the worlds of travel and publishing, OutThere was deeply affected by the pandemic, having enjoyed its best year yet in 2019. But they decided to use it as an opportunity to step back and assess what was truly important to them. They started a digital campaign called The #Experientialist, with a call to #keepyourmindtravelling and now want to “build back better”.
Jong says: “There are ways that we can look at making safe spaces for LGBT+ people across the world as we move forwards and to embrace the community, not just from a profit standpoint, but take time to understand what the challenges are and what people who are different to yourselves face. That’s what I would like to see people start to do as we come out of this challenging period of time.”
One way in which Jong is helping to bring this change about is through the LGBT+ Travel Symposium which came about when the Thailand tourism authority approached him and said they would like him to help educate people on the ground about this market. He organised an event attended by more than 200 brands and has now been asked to hold similar symposiums in Sweden and South Africa.
Jong says that travel is “in my DNA as someone who is intersectional”. His family is from Malaysia, and he grew up in the UK, so he grew up travelling.
“What I love most about travel is meeting people who are different to you. My fear from two years in lockdown is that people haven’t had an opportunity to go out and see what life is like beyond their four walls. That may lead to a more insular society and travel has the power to change that, to make people see the world in a different way and make us better people.”
What I love most about travel is meeting people who are different to you.
You can hear Uwern Jong being interviewed by James Evelegh on a recent episode of The InPublishing Podcast, which was sponsored by Air Business, a leading supplier of distribution and subscription management services.
This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.