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!!