Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ethics of Travel Writing

The ethics of travel writing has long been a topic of contention. At least since Mark Twain agreed to write about Thomas Cook's tours in the 19th century, travel writers have come under suspicion of having been bought. The issue may date back even further, perhaps to Marco Polo or Sir Richard Burton.
As we all know, travel is expensive. Countries and companies that want to attract tourists often sponsor travel journalists on press trips where most costs are covered. In return, the journalist is supposed to do his or her level best to write and publish articles or produce radio or TV reports about the destination.
The other fact about travel writing is that, with a very few exceptions, it pays very little. So the person who wants to write about it either has to pay for trips out of his limited earnings, or take sponsored trips.
Full disclosure--I have taken sponsored trips in the past, in addition to doing an enormous amount of travel on my own. That means, or used to mean, that I will never be able to write for the New York Times (www.nytimes.com_, which was one of my ambitions at one time.
From the consumer's point of view, the fact that a lot of travel stories you read are the result of sponsored trips does pose a certain risk. Even if the writer discloses that he was on a sponsored trip, did not having to pay for the trip prejudice him in favour of the destination? It certainly meant that that particular destination got covered, rather than another one. This is one reason it is hard to find a lot of stories on inexpensive destinations, cheaper hotels, nonprofit lodgings, etc.
I don't know what the solution is to this issue, but I just want to warn you that stories you read in print or on the Internet, or hear on radio and television, may not be from unprejudiced sources.
When I write here about a destination I have visited, I will try to inform you if I was there as a result of a sponsored trip. In some cases it may be hard, because I have travelled in a number of countries both on my own and on press trips.
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