Considered travelling: stop the herd behaviour
Saigon (Vietnam), September 4th 2009

The Lonely Planet travel guides are a big success. These travel guides are available for almost all our earth’s destinations, are mainly used by budget travellers and within this group they have a market share of probably more than 80%. Wherever you go, you will see backpackers with a Lonely Planet in their hand.

The Lonely Planet travel guides were unarguably pioneering. Already for decades, the guides are a reliable travel mate for independent travellers. The book contains useful information about hotels, restaurants, transport links, history, culture and many other things. Especially the maps are very handy when you arrive in a new and unknown destination. The arrival of the travel guides made travelling much easier, but maybe also less adventuring. It is definitely one of the reasons that more and more people decided to go travelling independently and for that reason, it also contributed to the development of local (budget) tourist economies. There are of course also other publishers of travel guides, but they are not as successful as the Lonely Planet.

There is also another side of the medal regarding the massive use of the Lonely Planet travel guides. Many travellers literally call the Lonely Planet guide the ‘travel bible’ and they behave also that way. The book is holy and a significant part of the travellers only make use of the hotels, restaurants, bus companies and travel agents that are mentioned in the Lonely Planet. This behaviour can have disastrous effects for businesses that are not mentioned in the book and that target the same group of customers. We saw recently a striking example in Saigon, when we were looking for an Indian restaurant. The Lonely Planet mentions one Indian restaurant and even gives the restaurant an ‘our pick’ mark, which means that the authors of the book find this place outstanding. However, the restaurant was closed for some reconstruction activities, which resulted in the fact that the Indian restaurant on the other side of the street, which is not mentioned in the Lonely Planet, was almost full. After our ten day visit to the Mekong delta, we decided to go for an Indian meal again. The restaurant that is mentioned in the Lonely Planet was open again, and all tables were occupied. On the other side of the street, the Indian owner of the other restaurant was standing on the sidewalk in front of his empty restaurant. All travellers decided to go in herds to the mentioned restaurant and the similar restaurant on the other side of the street was left behind without any customers. Just to be sure, we walked past both restaurants also the following evening, and the situation was the same. One full and one empty restaurant.

The fact of being mentioned or not in the Lonely Planet makes and breaks businesses. Some businesses that are mentioned in the book are grown over the years to nationwide organisations that earn a lot of money, while other business had to shut their doors. It is not only the responsibility of the Lonely Planet that the money that is brought in by the tourists is preferably divided over as much as possible businesses. Also the traveller has the responsibility to spend his money in a considered way. They should make less use of the business mentioned in the Lonely Planet, and spend a significant part elsewhere. The advantage is that the price is probably lower and the service better because these businesses are not blessed with a huge and constant flow of tame backpackers. But also the Lonely Planet could do something to spread the tourist money more proportional. They could decide to stop mentioning the names of particular hotels, restaurants and travel agents, but to mention only the areas in the city where the hotels, restaurants and agents are located. In that way it is the responsibility of the traveller to go and look for a place where he wants to spend his money. It is better for the local economy and besides that; it is definitely more adventurous than to travel in a herd of tourists to the same places all the time.

© copyright - / 2009