The Death of the Travel Guide

Are the days of carrying a travel book around Europe long gone? Probably.

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Back in March, BBC Worldwide sold Lonely Planet, the once-popular publisher of travel guides, to NC2 Media. Now, NC2 has shed most of Lonely Planet's staff in an effort to go digital. One staffer insisted that Lonely Planet is "no longer in the business of content creation" at all.

So are the days of carrying a travel book around Europe long gone? It certainly looks that way. After all, travel guides are all about convenience, and what's more convenient than having your entire guide on an iPhone app?

Bronwen Clune of The Guardian wrote Sunday, "the [Lonely Planet] books, dog-eared and worn, retired to bookshelves as souvenirs of the travels so many undertook in their 20s. That is not something a digital offering can tangibly replace." Perhaps not, but most 20-somethings are now content to use sites like TripAdvisor on a smartphone and log their memories in Instagram. To stay competitive, Lonely Planet will have to beef up its digital presence and update its content even more frequently than it is already doing — all while not compromising its authority.

Then again, some are hoping to survive on brand-name recognition. Frommer's, another popular travel book publisher, is not ready to give up on physical guidebooks just yet. Founder Arthur Frommer announced last week that Frommer's would start publishing "EasyGuides," which will be smaller than their usual guidebooks, so they'll be "light to carry" and "easy to read." In an online press release, Frommer wrote that readers

will not have to rely on the amateur, easily-faked, "user-generated" views of persons who have only casually visited a particular city and stayed in only one hotel in it. Our readers will be relying on the expertise and insights of such long-time journalists as Margie Rhynn in Paris, Jeanette Foster in Hawaii, Jack Jewers in Ireland, Pauline Frommer in New York, and other well-known travel names.   

He hits on the main criticism of online travel reviews and guides -- they less often come from seasoned travel writers than from anonymous or questionable sources.

Frommer's isn't betting it all on print, however. The publisher is developing apps and will publish the same "EasyGuides" digitally.

Eventually, though, the better travel writers will almost surely move to online platforms if they want to keep writing. Until then, travelers will have to choose between what's left of their trusted guidebooks and this new gizmo we keep hearing about called the Internet.

Photo by Andresr via Shutterstock 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.