April 14, 2008

Cheap, Lazy Travelers Make Cheap, Lazy Guidebook Writers
Miami Beach, United States

My brother just e-mailed me a link to a short blurb on CNN.com about a Lonely Planet author (Thomas Kohnstamm) who admitted never traveling to the countries he reviewed and selling drugs to subsidize his travel expenses.

A Lonely Planet author says he plagiarized or made up portions of the popular travel guidebooks and dealt drugs to supplement poor pay, an Australian newspaper reported Sunday.

"I wrote the book in San Francisco [California]," he is quoted as saying in the Telegraph. "I got the information from a chick I was dating—an intern in the Colombian Consulate."

The 32-year-old Seattle, Washington, native also claims he accepted free travel, which is a violation of the company's policy.

Kohnstamm has worked on more than a dozen books for Lonely Planet, including its titles on Brazil, Colombia, the Caribbean, Venezuela, Chile, and South America.

He's written a book about scamming LP to boot, and I'm sure he'll make some amount of money from sales, as this story will likely make the rounds on the travel news circuits. It's quite sad, really.

This really comes as no surprise to me. Guidebook writers are squeezed for time and extremely underpaid. Most aren't given a proper budget to work with, and many end up footing a portion of the trip themselves. I typically come across decade-old (or older) Lonely Planet guidebooks and am rather amazed at how little the content has changed—a sentence here, an updated map there.

While traveling in Colombia, I found out just how lazy they could be when an LP writer who couldn't speak much of any Spanish was using a hostel owner to call guesthouses around the country to update section information.

An interview with Simon Sellars, a veteran Lonely Planet writer, is a pretty good read on the subject, and probably enough to dissuade many from pursuing the job: How To Become A Lonely Planet Travel Writer - An interview with Simon Sellars.

Comments:

Ecuador

Molly

April 16th, 2008

I have been following the story of this LP author. I feel like until LP gets it all sorted out, the best thing to offer traveler's is an alternative. Check out vivatravelguides.com, it combines the traditional with the modern.

The United States

Craig | travelvice.com

April 16th, 2008

Thanks Molly. For what it's worth, World Hum recently did an interview with him.

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