Monday, October 19, 2009

Read Your Local Blog

An interesting thing happened last week. On a Latin American-based travel blog, Travelojos, the topic of being able to speak freely as a travel writer was discussed in depth. Jens Porup, a former Lonely Planet travel writer, was giving a speech at a tourism conference in Bogota, Colombia, when he said, among other things, that Colombia is great but needs to step up its tourism, but Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela are dangerous and not worth visiting. This created a bit of a stir up in the travel writing world, and on Travelojos, which reported on it.

In a post about the speech on Travelojos, people started to pitch in their own thoughts about travel writers speaking their minds and replied to what seemed to be unnecessarily harsh remarks about some countries. I was involved in the discussion as well, but was surprised when I saw that Lonely Planet head digital editor Vivek Wagle pitched in. Wagle explained that Porup no longer writes for Lonely Planet, and was misleading by representing them. Wagle wrote,

"My name’s Vivek. I’m the head digital editor at Lonely Planet and a former Lonely Planet author.
I have to say that we’re all disappointed that Jens chose to address the Bogotá tourism industry recently while portraying himself as a representative of Lonely Planet. Jens stopped working with us in June 2009, and Lonely Planet does not support the views he expressed.
As for Peru and the other countries Jen stereotyped, we try our best to be objective and to help people get to the heart of a place. Peru’s main drawcard may be Machu Picchu, but it has MUCH more to offer than pollution and crime. Anyone who has spent time getting to know it would agree. We absolutely do not believe that South American countries can be portrayed in a few flippant, simplistic lines.
I did want to let you know that Jens is in no way speaking for Lonely Planet when he makes such statements."

I was pretty impressed that in seemingly no time, a large publication like Lonely Planet was on the scene to respond to this. But in just a short time later, Jens Porup himself responded on the same post. Porup wrote,

"I used to believe in Lonely Planet. That was why I applied to work for them. I believed that Lonely Planet was about “telling it straight”. That, as an author, I would be allowed, even encouraged, to tell it like it is.
Then I started working for LP, and I realized this was not the case. It may have once been true twenty years ago. Now, all Lonely Planet cares about is making money.
The problem is simple: telling the truth hurts. The BBC (LP’s new owner) is interested in one thing only: maximizing profit. The way to do this is to minimize potential offense to any group, no matter how small.
The result? Guidebooks I don’t want to write, and guidebooks I don’t want to use.
Colombia rocks. Peru sucks. People who’ve been to both places know the truth."

While I don't agree with what Porup has said, it is at least refreshing to hear a travel writer speak his mind and go against the grain. I think it should be fairly obvious that a travel guide book will be interested in selling books mainly, but it's always interesting to hear an inside source on it. Of course there are always 2 sides to a story, but this is why blogs are useful. 

Travelojos was able to bring this conversation to a forefront, and in doing so showed the power of bloggers. Instead of the conversation being blown off or ignored, by the insulter and insultee were able to reply in a timely and honorable fashion. I think this is an interesting development for blogging, and hopefully will continue to shed light on topics like travel, among other things. 


Steven Roll said...


I agree. My interactions with Lonely Planet and its former writer Jens Porup have confirmed my belief that blogging plays an important role in the travel industry. If nothing else, the exchange suggests that there is a gap between what the guidebooks tell us and how things might really be.

I thought Porup's speech was very good. But, for me, some of his comments raise questions about how someone who covers the travel industry should be characterizing other countries in a public setting.

Jon said...


I think this would be a good debate for journalists and bloggers alike. Since so many writers are now blogging anyway, it's hard to say just who is a "crackpot" blogger and who a legit journalist is.

One of the most useful classes I took in college was my last semester and it was focused around blogging and multimedia journalism, which I have used to this day.

I think it's very interesting how your blog was able to get a conversation going. Good work!

Lauren said...


Wanted to let you know that I stumbled upon your blog today and I think it's really great. I just arrived in Ecuador last week so it's fun reading about your experiences there. I'm actually outside of Quito in Tumbaco.

Good luck in Argentina!


Jon said...

Hey Lauren,

Thanks for reading. Check back through last year for all that I was up to in Ecuador, as I am in Argentina now. But enjoy Ecuador. I miss it and my friends there a lot.