How The Travel Industry Has Changed – and the Guide Book Publishers haven’t kept up.
Travel guide books have been around since the Greeks were exploring the Mediterranean and Pilgrims were walking across Europe to Jerusalem. The modern publishers of guide books built on ancient antecedents. But essentially they are the same thing: a compilation of information published on paper which is updated, periodically, maybe every few years (at best).
Developed for times when there was little local information available for tourists, guidebooks helped by listing not just sights and what to do but also transport options, restaurants and hotels.
Therein lies the problem. Guidebooks haven’t noticed that the Internet age changes everything.
Traditional Guide Books Are Out of Date
Even the biggest players e.g. Lonely Planet in Asia, can’t afford to update their guidebooks once a year, often it’s every two to five years. It’s worse that that though, even if you buy and travel with the book on the day its published, the material inside it will be at least 12 – 18 months out of date. That’s because of the time it takes to get a paper book written, edited, typeset, printed, and distributed.
Non-Boring Travel Guides are either eBooks or print-on-demand paperbacks. That means within hours of updating the file, the book is updated. To get informed of updates readers should remember to sign up for email updates for the books they have purchased.
The bits that our out of date are the most important parts of a guidebook:
- Visas and entry conditions
- Prices and exchange rates
- Transport connections
- Hotel listings
But start online searching for this information online you will find several things:
Most official government Visa sites are written in something that looks like English – but the goobly gook is so thick most native speakers will struggle to understand it. Also what the government does and the airlines enforce are often subtly, but occasionally catastrophically different
Exchange rates are highly variable. You are far better off budgeting in the local currencies and then checking the current exchange rate at xe.com or your local bank. Prices do go up (generally) – but any book that quotes prices in a foreign currency for the country is adding even more variability to the equation.
Transport connections change fast – but there is a surprisingly small amount of updated information available in an easy to read format. Its buried in travel forums, often disguised in bad grammar and off-topic discussions.
Hotel listings and recommendations are very unreliable, basically guide book writers are paid enough to stay in every hotel in town, or even one of them. They are often basing recommendations on guided tours or lobbies. Plus one person’s opinion, is just that. My funky, quirky hotel, is your grubby poorly run flea-pit.
A Non-Boring Travel Guide points you the right direction to find the updated information you need from either online sources – or summarizes the most common questions right here.
Popular Guidebooks Distort What They Promote
In South-East Asia there is a well-known phenomena known as the “Lonely Planet effect”.
Say the popular guide book of the country (and in Asia it is Lonely Planet) describes a destination as “undiscovered” “unspoilt” or “like Phuket 20 years ago”. Yes that’s right – it becomes not so. To describe a hotel as being “charming and great value” – is to pretty much a guarantee of rising prices and decreasing standards.
Do a Google search for a hotel’s name – you will find plenty of booking agents – and very little real information, and no unbiased information. This book will point you to where you can find the most reliable information, where most hotels have multiple reviews from real travelers. You still need to read between the lines a bit, but it’s more reliable
Savvy travelers stopped relying on guidebooks for hotel and restaurants recommendations a long time ago.
Non-Boring Travel Guides try to point out the best locations to stay in – which side of town, or which suburb. Once you narrowed down an reasonably sized area you can narrow down a hotel using the normal online booking sites which provide plenty of independent reviews.
Guide Book Bloat
The weight: Lonely Planet’s first guide book published in the early 1970’s was called “Across Asia on the Cheap” and came in at less than 150 pages. It covered everywhere from Turkey to Nepal, via Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and India. In contrast the current edition of Lonely Planet’s India Guide weighs in at 1220 pages. For one country, and it weights 1.5lb (685g). Doesn’t sound too bad? Try carrying it around all day, in the heat…
Unfortunately today’s guide books are trying to be everything to everyone. Lonely Planet used to focus on budget travelers, but now they include recommendations for some of the best, and most expensive hotels in the country.
A guidebook used to be tell you how to get from A to B. Now a guide book will have long chapters on the country’s history, government and culture. There will be chapters on the cuisine and a vocabulary of the local language.
Have you actually used any of those sections when traveling? Didn’t think so.
With the Non-Boring Travel Guide series I’ve tried to cut the information down to only the essentials. If you have an particular interest in the country’s cuisine or history – but a cooking book or historical memoir.
Most guide books have maps – lots of them, some, though definitely not all – are useful. I’ve been using guide books for so long that I can remember when guidebooks were hand drawn by the author and often not to scale – or the scale varied across the map!
Then the maps got better, except often they are in a tiny font, with the listings over the page, and really the size of a standard guidebook is too small for a good map.
And in the meanwhile countries like Thailand started producing good maps, free maps (covered in advertising for sure but accurate enough and regularly updated).
So a map in a guidebook, is no longer essential. There are options: you could just use Google Maps on your smartphone, iPad or similar? Do you really want to walk the streets glued to a tiny smartphone screen or, an easier to read, but sillier looking iPad? Get a free paper map – they are quite good, you can fold them up, put them in your back pocket, sit on them, and they don’t break, and they are free. They are easy to read in bright sunlight – in fact they can even act as a sun visor in bright sunlight – you can make your own annotations (with a pen). And when you forget them and leave them behind, you can get another one, without getting upset!
Don’t get me wrong: I love tech and toys too. But at the end of the day until they actually invent electronic paper the paper map rules, pick one up before you leave the airport.
Non-Boring Travel Guides a few maps and links to Google Maps for the detail – I still think most people will be better off with a paper map.
My Views On What Should Be In A Guide Book
To me the main purpose of a guide book:
- To decided whether to go somewhere or not;
- General information on a country, location;
- Choice of location to stay
Getting a general feel for a destination is tricky if you all you do is surf the web. Often all you will find is either advertorial copy singing the praises of a destination or very specific information that won’t give you a realistic overview. One of the reasons that the early Lonely Planet guides became so popular was because they had opinions. If the guidebook writer didn’t like a place – they actually said it! How often have you seen that these days – it’s all terribly PC and balanced.
So I have opinions – you’ll need to get used to that. I do try to explain what I do or don’t like about a location, so you can make your own judgement as to whether you agree or not.
Choosing Where to Stay
Notice I said “location” – I mean the part of town, area, locale, not the specific hotel or resort. Recommending specific properties is where guide books get into trouble. There are too many properties to fact check correctly, properties change phone numbers, go uphill, go downhill, change their rates, close, reopen elsewhere.
Ever wondered why so many locations in Asia will have a Paradise Beach Guest House #2 and a Paradise Beach Bungalow #3. Its probably because many years ago a guide book recommend a Paradise Beach Guest House as being the best place to stay. Whether that original recommended outfit are any of the current ones, or in fact even exists – is unclear. Its the power of marketing in countries where its easy enough to mislead and mis-represent.
Non-Boring Travel Guides describes locations where you may want to stay- you can use specific suburb locations to easily narrow down suitable hotels using popular hotel booking sites.