There are more myths in travel writing and travel blogging than in The Odyssey and the one about traditional travel writers seeking out fresh original copy when they visit a destination whereas bloggers potter around with their bloggy mates then write about what they did on their jollies is just one of many. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen but some trad travel writers aren’t necessarily in the position to look snootily down from their pedestals.
I’m not anti travel writing or pro travel blogging. We write for both print and the web so any axe I grind is purely for the purposes of chopping wood. But I am anti bull. If Karl Pilkington is looking for a sidekick I’m up for the role.
As well as writing about our travels generally, we specialise in Tenerife and the Canary Islands. Specialising in a specific destination has a number of benefits and one is that it provides an insight into how others approach their jobs as travel writers, travel bloggers and travel editors. We know which travel guide has been cobbled together and which has actually been well researched. We know which travel blogger has written about an island they haven’t actually visited. We know which travel bloggers and travel writers have visited Tenerife and yet not visited ‘Tenerife’ and we know when travel editors are employing a bit of poetic licence when they claim they only publish original and well researched articles.
A combination of circumstances has prompted this article, the first being two articles about La Gomera in the The Telegraph and The Independent. The second is a blog in the travel bloggers’ website Travelllll.com and the third was an assertion by a panel of UK travel editors that most of the speculative submissions they receive are bland and unoriginal and useful only for decorating the inside of the rubbish bin.
In the blog on Travelllll.com, Matthew Kepnes wrote:
“…the one thing we can take from the old school journalists is that they spend a lot of time researching and writing articles…”
That’s a given, or is it? An accusation often levelled at travel bloggers is that they don’t research or sniff out original stories in the way that conventional travel writers do. It might be true in some cases, but are all travel writers really globe-trotting bloodhounds who pen original travel articles?
The Evidence M´Lord
Whilst we hiked up and down and down and up the barrancos on The Canary island of La Gomera there were two articles about the island published in British broadsheets. Both waxed lyrical about it being the unspoilt Canary Island (which it is) and both made reference to its brash and noisy neighbour Tenerife. The authors were experiencing an authentic Canary Island… except they weren’t. Both wrote about the island from the luxury of a five star hotel in one of La Gomera’s tourist resorts, Playa Santiago. The hotel and resort are very nice (ish) but staying there isn’t really experiencing La Gomera. If they’d written their articles from Hermigua, Vallehermoso or even San Sebastián I could have taken the ‘looking down their noses’ at the more touristy Canary Islands. But they didn’t. The fact is they stayed in a 5 star resort that has about as much to do with the Canary islands as an all day English breakfast and hardly ventured into the real La Gomera.
This staying in a five star hotel then writing about discovering the ‘real’ Canary Islands has been doing the rounds for years and yet those travel editors who are so keen on originality seem to have no qualms about publishing the same article over and over.
More Evidence M’Lord
In the same week in September last year both The Sun and The Mirror published almost identical articles about Tenerife. In both cases the authors experienced Tenerife from – yup, you’ve guessed it – the luxury of a five star hotel.
An article about La Palma had a similar angle as the La Gomera pieces yet was written from the bland and very touristy surroundings of Los Cancajos. I’d have taken the article more seriously if the writer had been based in Santa Cruz de La Palma, a few kilometres away, where there are some wonderfully atmospheric places to stay and where they would have actually been immersed in an authentic Canarian town.
Even More Evidence.
Tenerife suffers dreadfully from the same thing being written over and over again. What do travel editors really think when they get yet another ‘Tenerife has changed, it’s gone upmarket’ pitch? Apparently they print it.
In the last year The Daily Mail, The Independent and The Mirror all printed articles by writers who ‘didn’t want to stay at noisy tourist resorts’ so opted for the real Tenerife. This turned out to be a luxury resort a stone’s throw from the purpose-built resorts. In all cases the writers did no more and no less than a package holiday tourist whose experience of Tenerife came courtesy of a coach excursion.
The worst of the three even laid on the deception in thick strokes, talking about how they travelled north from the airport leaving the tourists behind to enter a completely different world – the luxurious world of the Gran Meliá Palacio resort on the south west coast (just down the road from Costa Adeje and Playa de las Américas). If she really did travel north to get there, the taxi driver must have been laughing all the way to his bulging bank account. But then the author was obviously a bit confused, getting place names and historic dates wrong.
We all make mistakes and I wouldn’t have a go at anyone for that. But what riles is the deception and undeserved snobbery involved in all of the above.
There is nothing wrong with staying in a luxury resort and enjoying it; we do it now and again and usually have a great time. But don’t try to pretend you’re having an ‘authentic’ experience whilst looking down your nose at ‘honest’ tourists. And don’t harp on about all traditional journalists being the Bernsteins and Woodwards of the travel writing world when clearly plenty are simply enjoying a family holiday and making a bit of dosh by writing about it.
The biggest niggle though is that if this lazy deception is the norm for writing about the Canary Islands, where else in the World is it being applied?