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Thursday, April 17, 2008 11:46 am
Lonely Planet Thinks Travel Writer Is from Hell
Posted by: Keir Graff

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?Remember Thomas Kohnstamm? Well, he’s in the news again. His claims that Lonely Planet guides are not entirely trustworthy have irked a number of people, including, er, Lonely Planet. On their site, they address his charges, although they respond to one of his biggest complaints in a fairly vague manner:

5. Thomas claims he was not paid enough by Lonely Planet to do the job without shortcuts. While we ask a lot of our authors, we lead the industry in the fees we pay, and are committed to a yearly review of author fees. 

Yes, but what if no one in the travel-guide industry pays their correspondents enough to do a thorough job? Wouldn’t that be an interesting story? (And hardly unimaginable: many freelancing gigs pay so poorly that they rely on the notion of writers doing the work for free/for fun/for their resumes….)

There’s plenty of chatter at the Lonely Planet forums.

BBC, which owns 75% of Lonely Planet, reports on the foofaraw (“Lonely Planet rebuts ‘fake’ claim“), and–hey, this is interesting:

Other travel writers, while not endorsing Mr Kohnstamm’s methods, said he was reporting genuine failures in the travel-writing industry – that writers are poorly paid, have to cover their own costs, and were expected to check a vast amount of detail.

As for myself, when Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? came across my desk, I had a strong feeling of deja vu, given that I had recently published a short story about a Hunter S. Thompson-wannabe travel writer (“If You Should Have Any Need at All“) in the Chicago Reader last December.

Comments

comments

2 Responses to “Lonely Planet Thinks Travel Writer Is from Hell”
  1. J Hughes Says:

    For years there has been an ongoing rumble over allegations of edition of LP Thailand having been plagerised by an early author from an experienced Travellers notes.

    I live in VietNam, and do business in the travel industry, and have personally witnessed:

    (1) A LP writer ensconced in a Pham Ngu Lao, SaiGon, backpacker bar who bought drinks for anyone who could supply detailed anecdotes or experiences of their travels;

    (2) I was in Hue during 2007 when an LP updater passed through and in a restaurant where I was eating said that he was from LP and that he wanted to “taste their food” – on a “sample” or “no charge” basis so he would put them in the VietNam guide. I happen to know the owner of the restaurant and he confirmed the expectation of free food;

    (3) In Da Lat another LP updater – it’s a long time since they completely re-wrote the guide – in conversation with a hotel owner who voiced anger when asked for a “free room” in exchange for a recommendation in the LP guide.

    LP guides are frequently inaccurate and seem to be produced on an annual basis to maintain cash flow.

    What possessed the BBC to actually buy into this outfit is beyond my understanding.

    There are many VietNam guides and LP is one of the poorest be it the 2008 edition, which contains errors from previous years, or an earlier one.

  2. Gwyn Lawrence Says:

    I own a small (6 room) hotel in Northern Belize. We were visited in February 2008 by the Lonely Planet researcher who was updating the Belize guide. His name is Joshua Samuel Brown, I know this because he presented me with his card which says on it,”Lonely Planet writers and staff do not accept discounts or payments in exchange for positive coverage of any sort”.
    He was professional and diligent.
    I used to own a bar in Antigua, Guatemala, and it is amazing how many people work for the Lonely Planet and want free drinks. Please do not be so naive that you believe someone is from the Lonely Planet because they say they are.
    Having said that, I am sure the Guides vary in quality.
    Gwyn Lawrence, Belize, April 27th 2008


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