Posted in Behind the News

Q&A: AP Travel Editor Beth Harpaz

, by Erin Madigan White

Beth Harpaz oversees The Associated Press’ global coverage of travel, keeping it practical, on-trend and authoritative. Here, she previews a number of new columns debuting this month and explains why AP offers the best “travel perks”:

AP serves diverse group of news organizations scattered across the map. What do their editors look for when it comes to travel coverage?
There’s so much content online these days, but AP Travel is different from what’s out there. No. 1, we don’t take free trips, so you can trust what we write. No. 2, we can provide a comprehensive guide to a destination in 800 words, so you don’t have to slog through a million websites. No. 3, our stories all have input from local staffers that have local expertise. And No. 4, we’re always on top of the news, writing about the latest attractions, events and exhibits, not just the evergreen content in out-of-date guidebooks.

What new columns do you have planned and how do they reflect current travel trends?
We’re launching four new columns this month:

  • NEIGHBORHOODS will look at an interesting place to spend a few hours. The column was inspired by a British visitor in NYC who told me, “I don’t want to be a tourist. I just want to hang out in a real neighborhood.”
  • SERENITY NOW will look at beautiful, peaceful places, whether it’s a trail or beach in the great outdoors, or a garden, church or scenic view in a quiet corner of a city.
  • BLEISURE BITS refers to “business-leisure” _ ideas for time-crunched business travelers to sneak away from meetings for a quick outing: an interesting attraction, a morning run in a local park or unique shopping expedition.
  • ESSENTIALS will offer a comprehensive guide to a destination in 800 words with four sections: Classic Attractions, What’s New, Tips and Hanging Out.

So what’s the best “bleisure” trip you’ve ever taken?
I went to a conference in Tampa, Florida, that ended on a Friday night. So I booked my return for Saturday afternoon and spent the morning at Anna Maria Island, a beautiful local beach.

How does AP leverage its footprint in every state and around the world for travel coverage?
Many AP travel stories are written by people who live in the places they’re writing about, so they are truly experts. And when we run stories by reporters who merely visited a place on vacation, I consult with the local bureau to make sure we’re getting things right. I also get a lot of press releases claiming new trends, and I count on local bureaus or beat reporters, like our airlines team, to tell me whether something is hooey or worth pursuing.

What tops your list of places to visit this year?
I’m on a geeky quest to visit all 50 states. Last year I knocked off Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, loving everything from the Cowboy Museum to the Tallgrass Prairie. This year I’m headed to Indiana to the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Wisconsin for the cheese tour. I cannot WAIT! Only four states left after that – Idaho, Montana, Mississippi and North Dakota.

What’s the best perk of your job?
AP is like a big family. When I’m traveling, I can reach out to our bureau wherever I’m going and ask, “Hey, where should I eat? What should I do? What’s a cool neighborhood?” It’s like having a cousin in every city!

Harpaz came to the AP after stints at the Staten Island Advance and The Record of Bergen County, N.J. She covered everything from Hillary Clinton to 9/11 before becoming AP Travel editor in 2004. She’s a lifelong New Yorker and volunteers as a Big Apple Greeter, taking tourists to interesting neighborhoods in Brooklyn. She’s also the author of three books. Join the 75,000 others who follow her on Twitter @AP_Travel.