I once had a brilliant idea about doing a serious book about travel called Slash and Burn Tourism. The pitch was, like the traditional but destructive tradition of slash and burn agriculture, there are many destinations in the world that used to be great, but are now so overcrowded and overtaxed that people are giving them a pass. In the magazines’ and travel shows’ quests to be onto the next big thing, the old big thing is left to implode.
Then I realized I didn’t have the time or the energy to spend six months or a year researching a book like that, only to be depressed with what I found. So if you want to run with that idea, go write a proposal and pitch it to agents. Be my guest. Buy me a beer sometime for my royalty split.
Maybe the best person to write that would be Washington Post writer Elizabeth Becker. This article, Don’t Go There, is the kind of thing you almost never see in a publication (or newspaper section) that depends on deep-pocketed travel industry advertisers for its livelihood. As a former New York Times travel editor quoted in the story says, “We never did the ten worst [places to visit], only the ten best.”
When is the last time you saw a destination exposed for the bad experience it really is in a major travel magazine? What’s the ratio of positive cruising stories to the ones that examine the destruction caused by the industry and its passengers? The only group dealing with the issues on a regular basis, as far as I can tell, is National Geographic, especially columnist Jonathan Tourtellot. His regular Destination Watch column (seldom online) in National Geographic Traveler and the annual places rated surveys are serious breaths of fresh air among the usual perfumed travel mag pages and fashion spreads.
Most other travel mags wouldn’t dare run a survey that shows Turks & Caicos, Ibiza, and St. Thomas at the very bottom of the list for sustainable tourism practices. (You can just picture the publisher slamming the door of the editor’s office and chewing him/her out for the lost ad revenue that quarter.)
This, rather than the change in reading habits, may be what really brings down the dead tree magazine publishing industry. Why get only half the story when you can go online and get the whole picture? Sure, the likes of World Hum, Perceptive Travel, Tripso, and all the null out there are never going to generate the kind of big ad bucks that Travel & Leisure does, but in a way that’s their salvation. They can give you the straight scoop without any toning down or glossing over. The reader comes first, and is assumed to be intelligent enough to hear some negatives along with the positives.
TV may be okay though as long as Anthony Bourdain is still allowed full creative control…
[flickr photo by Zora O’Neill]