How has the pandemic affected travel guides?

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This story has been updated.

Rick Steves is publicized. This is not so unusual: Infectious joy is certainly one of the keys to Steves’ success as a loving holiday guru of America. Nevertheless, when he goes on a 40-day trip next month to update his European guides – a ritual he performed every spring – it will be the first such trip since covid-19 erased his travel calendar, which explains his current level. euphoria.

“Just getting back in the saddle filled me with adventure and energy,” he said. “Can not wait.” The trip follows a pandemic of a long-running dry season that calmed the press throughout the guide industry. According to NPD BookScan, US travel book sales fell approximately 40 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year. (Category includes, but is not limited to, travel guides.)

In the face of halted sales and the prospect of a continuing shock during the pandemic, many copies of the guides were postponed or canceled. “We have suspended all the guides,” said Pauline Frommer, co-chair of the guide company her father, Arthur Frommer, founded in 1957. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has been very clear that things will change drastically. and I didn’t want to print guides that weren’t worth the paper they printed on. ”

The books were re-examined in 2021. Some have already been published and others are due out in the coming months.

The decline in the pandemic occurred after uncertain decades for the guide industry. After reaching 19,005,029 in 2006, travel book sales in the United States halved in the following decade. In 2013, BBC Worldwide sold Lonely Planet, followed by a move massive layoffs. Then, when Google acquired Frommer’s, it quietly stopped the entire production of Frommer’s printed guides. (The Frommer family acquired the rights and restored their press.)

While everyone else is tidying up, I keep the books that have made me a traveler

Therefore, 2013 became the year of essays announcing the demise of travel guides, each of which attributes the cause of death to some combination of applications, influencers, online search and the digital power. Tripadvisor. But the statements of fate were nothing new. “All the time I’ve been working on guides, people have been thinking that the end of the guides is approaching,” said author Zora O’Neill, who wrote her first travel guide in 2002, writing names for both Moon and Lonely Planet.

Although the end never came, O’Neill saw how the industry had changed. Rates have fallen or stagnated over the last two decades, in many cases replacing traditional lease agreements. And the once dominant role of guides in travel culture has also changed.

As an old millennial who began to travel in the supposedly Halcyon age of guides, I watched this transformation with interest. Sometimes with nostalgia: I miss exchanging annotated books with dog ears with fellow travelers in bars or hostels. Now you can reliably find the same places full of people stuck to their screens.

Twenty years ago, however, I would have said that the guides contributed to an information monoculture that I considered aggravating. I noticed that people using the same brand of travel guides seemed to be following them, slightly embarrassed, from place to place.

On a one-month trip to Central America in 2002, the co-owners of Lonely Planet’s stout “Central America on a String” became famous faces as we appeared in the same places in town after town. When new businesses opened, the owners tried to get the word out. Horrifying stories circulated about dubious guide ethics. Out-of-date or incorrect book entries can get you stuck, but there were few other sources.

“When I started writing, the problem was that there wasn’t enough information,” Steves said, noting that guides had once been the only way to decide where to stay in an unknown city. As times have changed, this equality has given way to the untamed, exciting diversity of today’s digital wilderness.

Sales of camping and tourist guides are rising as Americans venture out

“It got to the point where there was too much information,” he said, adding that increasing sources make it difficult to find out what is reliable. Exploring a trip online can be an endless loop of Mad Max with unverified user reviews and self-appointed experts. Trading free tours for solar features is common practice in the world of travel influencers with little transparency about who pays the bill for a given blog post or video on YouTube.

While previous travelers only needed basic information, Steves said, the main value of guides may now be the escape hatch from this digital congestion. “Part of my job is to prepare all options – excess information – with a consistent set of values,” he said. What’s more, the printed guide offers a disconnect option, allowing passengers to put down their phones, Steves said. With a screen at your fingertips, it’s too easy to let your attention run away from this elegant Parisian bistro into a sadly normal scroll.

This seems to work because Steves’ 2019 license checks were the highest in his career. Despite apocalyptic warnings, the guides are, in fact, generally doing well. Following critical reports in 2013, travel book sales stabilized, then remained roughly the same until a pandemic broke out.

However, most travelers who still buy printed books seem to read them in conjunction with online resources, not instead. In the recent Facebook a Twitter contributions, veteran traveler and content creator Abigail King asked her followers how they used guides today, noting that some were shopping for a pre-trip survey and returned to the internet to get the facts from the practice. Others turn books into a souvenir full of tickets and handwritten notes.

“Now I use them in a really different way, mainly for reading about the country and planning the itinerary,” said King, who lives in the United Kingdom. She noted that when traveling to destinations in Europe with consistent mobile coverage, she is unlikely to bring a hard copy.

“The guides are now a set of tools that people use,” said Grace Fujimoto, Director of Acquisitions Avalon Travelwhich oversees Moon Travel Guides, which is the largest seller of guides in the United States. (Revelation: I wrote several A month Fujimoto said the pandemic had accelerated the move toward the book plus digitally, in part because information had changed so rapidly over the past two years.

But that only underscores the broader trend of recent years, she said. “Guides are becoming more and more inspiring, except that they are just repositories of information,” said Fujimoto, offering a forthcoming guide to the Spanish Santiago Road for example, the pilgrimage trail. “She has a lot of good practical information, but she combines it with ways to evaluate what you see and do at almost every step,” she said.

Lonely planet is another publisher who relies on change. “The guides are evolving into this experiential, curated collection,” said Lonely Planet spokesman Chris Zeiher. This month, the company released a new series of “Experience” photo guides, which Zeiher said are designed to inspire.

The first titles in the series, guides to Italy, Portugal, Japan, Ireland, Scotland and Iceland, are noticeably missing from the extensive lists of old-style hotels and restaurants. Instead, there are interviews with experts and short magazine-style articles about the experiences that travelers can build on the trip.

Flip through them to get into the pursuit of waterfalls in Iceland, for example, or to dream of an itinerary focused on visiting Japanese temples. And unlike the first Lonely Planet guides, which focused on longer and more complex trips, these are adapted to shorter vacations, which are becoming more common among travelers from the United States.

Since joining Lonely Planet almost 17 years ago, Zeiher has also heard predictions about the demise of printed guides. However, he is optimistic about the next decade. “One thing Lonely Planet has always done is that we’ve always evolved,” he said. “I think we will continue to do that.”

As the pandemic subsides and the travelers return to the world, they bet that there is room for a book in their bag.

Smith is a writer based in Vermont. Her website is jenrosesmith.com. Find her at Twitter a Instagram: @jenrosesmithvt.

Potential passengers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any journeys. Travel health information can be found on the interactive map of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows travel recommendations according to destination and the CDC travel health warning website.

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