Can You Trust Travel Guidebooks?
Travel writers on the take?! I'm shocked, shocked.
A new memoir by a rogue guidebook writer is causing a big kerfuffle in the travel community. In his book "Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?", former Lonely Planet contributor Thomas Kohnstamm says that during his assignments for several LP guidebooks, he cut corners (as in, didn't even visit some of the places he wrote about) and traded favors (sex with a waitress on a restaurant table being the most memorable) for positive writeups. Folks are also outraged that the guy allegedly wrote a whole guidebook on Colombia while he was ensconced in San Francisco, but that appears to be not quite true: In an interview on the World Hum travel blog, he says he was never meant to be an on-the-ground reporter for that book, but was hired to do the intro. Whatever.
Lonely Planet, for its part, has posted a point-by-point rebuttal of Kohnstamm's claims and says it will "immediately review" all the content he provided. "Where we find problems or discrepancies, we will tell you immediately and replace that content with accurate, up-to-date material."
Yes, well. I hate to shatter any illusions out there, but it's no secret that many guidebook and travel writers are less than scrupulous. Of course, it depends on your definition of scruples. Many publishers openly allow their writers to accept free trips, lodgings and meals; others have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy and look the other way. Lonely Planet, for its part, says it doesn't allow its writers to accept freebies for favorable writeups, but you could drive a truck through that loophole.
As soon as I joined The Post Travel section, and despite the newspaper's well-known policy against freebies, the offers started pouring in. It's a time-honored tradition for tourism offices, airlines and cruise lines to dangle free trips or offer "media rates" to travel writers, and for hotels and restaurants to offer comped stays and meals. It's all done very slickly -- no travel provider is so unsubtle as to demand favorable coverage.
Most writers who take comps say they can't be bought and that their coverage isn't influenced one way or another by the fact that they've gotten comped. Okay, if they want to tell themselves that, fine, although we all know there's a subtle sense of obligation that comes with being comped. Even assuming you're incorruptible, there's the appearance of conflict of interest. At The Post, all our freelancers are required to sign a statement saying that they've paid for their trips themselves. If we find out otherwise, they're out.
By K.C. Summers |
April 16, 2008; 1:44 PM ET
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