Friday, March 6, 2009

Guidebook vs Tour guide

This morning I received a press release which criticised guidebook giant Lonely Planet claiming that they'd "lost touch with the zeitgeist" and were being forced out of the market by e-travel websites like OurExplorer. (Interestingly the press release was written and supplied by OurExplorer, so there's no bias there of course!)

The basis for their claim was an article written by British-born travel writer Tristan Rutherford, Battle of the Orient-Guidebook vs Tour Guide, in which he compares the enjoyment of using a Lonely Planet guidebook versus a local tour guide booked through OurExplorer. The city in question was Istanbul in Turkey and when summarising his experience of having a tour guide, Tristan argued that "A thousand guidebook words couldn't convey her emotion." Because of this one report, the writer of the press release (again, an employee from OurExplorer) proudly announced that Lonely Planet had been "slain" and that the death of the guidebook was nigh.

Really, what a load of rubbish! In my opinion comparing a guidebook with a local tour guide is like comparing apples and oranges. There is no comparison! A local tour who lives in and grew up in a city will naturally convey more emotion about a place than a guidebook. As a guidebook author I've used local tour guides on numerous occasions while researching and updating the books I have worked on. Not only do they help with collecting the most up-to-date and accurate information, but they also give you a more personal experience of a place – something a guidebook can never do. As I've said before on this forum, a guidebook is not a bible. It is merely a tool used to enhance your travel experience. To use it alone and base your whole trip on it is very foolish indeed.

So, do I believe e-travel websites will "push guidebook companies like Lonely Planet into the history books"? Well, there is certainly scope for e-travel websites to give guidebooks a run for their money. The problem however is that you can't trust the information that is posted on these websites – you have no idea who wrote it, when it was written, and where the information came from. At least if you buy a guidebook written by a respected author, you can feel safe knowing that they have some authority on the subject. If you're in any doubt read Lara Dunston's recent postings on Cool Travel Guide where she critiques the information suppied on Dubai by the new travel website Offbeat Guides - her findings are truly scary!

Just for fun I thought I'd quickly test out the Ourexplorer website. I put in the city of my birth, Brisbane in Australia, and said I was interested in "shopping". Would you believe that the first local "expert" who popped up was a 53 year-old male who hails from the US and uses a photograph taken in Sydney to highlight his expertise in Brisbane! I can't say that I'm confident he'd make a very good shopping partner.. And I'm cerrtainly not willing to hand over 200euro a day to find out!!

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3 comments:

Lara Dunston said...

Nicely-written post and you make some great points.

I'll go and read that story and the press release now.

The funny thing is that the Istanbul guidebook probably has a paragraph in there where they recommend local guides! Terry and I recently wrote a book on Milan and the Lakes for Footprint where I recommended a shopping guide for Bergamo and a hiking guide for Lake Maggiore for instance.

If guides are good, they certainly enhance a travel experience. I used to hate guides because I'd never had a good one, but over the last 18 months or so, we've had some brilliant guides. I thoroughly recommend Context's guides for example - fantastic - they'll enrich your experience in a way that a guidebook can't.

However, a guide is not going to plan your trip, book your hotels, help you select a restaurant for dinner, etc, *every* day of the trip. Unless you're mega-rich you might only hire a guide a couple of times on a trip. So they can't or won't replace guidebooks - or whatever other tool people are using - some travellers prefer to print up reams of Trip Advisor for instance...

And why would you want a guide every day anyway? You'd only be seeing the place/trip through that person's eyes. I personally like to meet lots of different people, locals, travellers, and gain an array of perspectives on a place in addition to forming my own views.

Now, you know you can actually try one of their guides for free..? I'll try to dig out that press release for you. Could be a good exercise.

Caitlin said...

I got the same press release and had the same reaction: "What a crock!"

Guidebooks and tour guides aren't in competition with each other so it's a false dichotomy anyway.

I also don't see much that's new and innovative about a website that hooks you up with a guide. Bah.

In Kent in the UK there's the 'Thanet Greeters' but the difference is they're volunteers and it's completely free.

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