Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Another anti-Lonely Planet rant: The dumbing down of travel guidebooks

I've blogged about Lonely Planet fairly often over the years - from musing over their future direction back in 2005, through wondering what would happen when they were 75% sold to BBC, to complaining about the Disney-isation of my formerly favourite guidebook publisher. This week as part of my work reviewing travel books, I took a good look through Lonely Planet's list of books they'll release in 2009, and I have to say, I wasn't overly impressed.


I accept that it's all about making business decisions (I'll accept it, although I don't like it), but it sure seems like Lonely Planet is overdoing it in targeting mainstream travellers. They have a bunch of city guides that they advertise as giving you "twice the city in half the time" - stuff like the Las Vegas Encounter or the Florence Encounter guides - which seem aimed at cramming all the "necessary" sightseeing into as short a time as possible. That's not what Lonely Planet used to be about, and it's not a style of travelling I like or want to see encouraged - it's usually poorly-informed, wasteful travel that leaves a big footprint without providing much in the way of learning and life experience for the travellers. Sorry to rant, but that's what a marketing phrase like "twice the city in half the time" makes me do.

To be honest, it's a long time since I bought any guidebook and I think that for me, the time of guidebooks might be pretty much over - I can collate my own information from many different sources, and love doing this kind of pre-trip research. However, I must admit to having borrowed the Adelaide & South Australia guide from my local library recently. Not because I needed actual travel details or information, but because I wanted to choose which part of South Australia we'll explore when we fly to Adelaide later this year. This old-style Lonely Planet guide had lots of nice commentary about the different regions and helped me with my choice. But I don't need to travel with it; and if the guides all go in the direction of the Encounter series then I won't even be borrowing them from the library in the future. I guess Lonely Planet has a lot more customers now, but a lot less customers who are people like me.

PS: In defence of Lonely Planet, I got a message from a LP staff member who mentioned that guides for Lombok, China, Jordan, Kenya, East Africa, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Iran, Burma and Tibet are all in the 2009 catalogue too. Fair enough, I say; but I haven't changed my position on my dislike of the "twice the city, half the time" marketing strategy.

4 comments:

  1. I find the visitor's guides from the city I'm planning to go to to be pretty good. Or I check out a variety of different sites for information while planning a trip which unfortunately, have been few and far between over the past few years. If only I had the time and money to do what I really want to do in life.

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  2. Chris, how true: "If only I had the time and money to do what I really want to do in life"! Of course I do pretty well at making my time and money stretch for travels but I could easily spend my whole life on the road and still not get everywhere I wanted to "properly". Thanks for your comment.

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  3. I totally agree with you, Amanda. I used to be a Lonely Planet fan a long time ago, where there was no internet and LP was undoubtedly the best source of information available. But over the years, I started to notice big differences according to the destinations. While the guides on US, Canada and South America were still displaying a lot of useful information, the ones related to African countries were really poor. Sometimes, I was really asking myself if the writer had really been in the country... So I stopped to buy them. Too expensive for what they offer, while I can find a lot of updated information on the web. I might just go to the library to have a quick look and take some notes, but nothing more than that.
    I also share your view that travel guides are overall obsolete. But if I had to recommend one, I would point at the "Guide du Routard". It has a similar philosophy of what LP used to be, but (for the time being) has not lost its original spirit.
    Cheers,

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  4. Hey there
    We're travelling around the world and we totally agree with you!
    We have just written a mail to the Italian LP Staff about the problems that the Guide caused in our trip.
    Let's do by ourselves our guide with our tales or travellers blog!
    Cheers,
    Rossella e Emanuele
    http://ilgiromondo.com

    ReplyDelete

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