Such thoughtful commentary. Thank you.I read the New Yorker piece too, and an interview with the architect, and a bunch of other stuff as well. The architect is slippery about his intent and the ambiguity of the space. I think he's being disingenous but that's neither here nor there, really. I've seen the "Stolpersteine" too -- those things are surprisingly effective. Humans are going to use public spaces at their own will, certainly, and they're going to continue on about their blissfully ignorant ways, grinding out cigarette butts on those memory stones and using the Berlin Memorial as a playground. These things aren't criminal,though the memorial in Berlin has explicit rules that forbid jumping on the stones. In general, this behavior is indicative of is a lack of awareness; I'm not leaping to the conclusion that because someone's unaware, they're by default an asshole, as tempting as that is. My issue is that in this instance, the writer was not some random passerby, he was an educated and thoughtful person who saw the site as a playground and left it at that. My issues are singular, specific, personal, though the original post (which has been removed) caused me to think about other places that I'd seen disrespected in the course of my travels.
It caused me to think about the responsibility we have as thoughtful travelers with a platform on which to tell stories. The original post is gone, but it was a celebration of the misuse of the memorial, including a "hey, got one over on the guards" remark. The blogger knew exactly what this place was and what it signified, but that wasn't the focus here. More sophisticated editorial about the memorial discusses the failings of the plaza to do its (supposed) job, instead, it's just a visually interesting (and tempting playground).This was only about the playground aspect of it, with a knowing wink at the fact that this was misbehavior, like smoking in the bathroom on school grounds. My sensitivity on this issue is around a failure, on the writer's part, to contextualize the incident and the place. It's the responsible travel part that you mention, which I wish was applied more vigorously on the whole. My issues were with the blogger's failure to consider the space, its history, how effective it is as a monument, how it's used... his commentary devalues the place terribly, and as I said to him directly, I thought he was better than that. It turns out he is, and I eagerly await the publication of a follow up. If we are to be taken seriously for the work we do independently online, we need to do much, much better than this. While I wish everyone would read the plaque, take the time to find the visitor's center, do a little homework, I realize that's simply not going to happen with the general public. So I must settle for asking that those of us who publish stories about travel consider, for five minutes before they hit the publish button, the context of the place they are writing about. To expect that the better amongst us ask "What is this place?" seems so very little to ask.
I can't even believe this is a thing people do.Sometimes, I am shockingly naive.
I love that you connect the facts of past history to the present emotions/state of mind of those whose tribe was affected.It's a whole different thing when you consider that it could have been your grandparents who were the victims. My personal lines run back to the Ukraine and Czarist Russian troops burning Jewish villages -- your classic pre-war Ashkenazi history -- but it's still my people (along with other populations) that were the target of the Nazis, so it's hard not to personalize it. I think the Amazing Race and An Idiot Abroad have some interesting subtexts, and one of the things I reluctantly found myself doing was admiring Karl Pilkington for his efforts to be kind. I don't have a sense of how much is staged, but I watched an episode where he was with a tribe in the Amazon (I think, sorry, shaky memory) and they tried to feed him something weird. And rather than being a jerk about it, he declined, while trying to tell them that he did not want to take away from their resources. I thought this a remarkable moment, actually, because he didn't wish to offend his hosts. In the limited episodes I've watched, he seems so game to try new things, to be in new places, and also, tries not to blunder. That last bit, his efforts not to blunder, make me think he's not such an idiot after all. There are bits in the Amazing Race (which I haven't spent much time with) where the contestants have to solve a problem that has a basis in the local culture, and I think that's interesting too, because at the very least, they're engaging in a local practice.
I worked with an Antarctica travel company for a while and you know what they said? They said "We don't even touch that idea of green travel. The carbon footprint for our trips is huge, there's no way to deny it. But we hope that people both advocate for better policy and change their own habits as a result of what they learn and see when they travel with us." I think that's a good policy for individual travelers, too.
I was in Cancun a few years ago and watched the beach get rebuilt -- again. I was on a press trip and I asked to go snorkeling, the organizers sent me out on a trip where they wanted me to drive my own speedboat -- that was not what I had in mind. I found the whole place confusing -- artificial beach, rather destructive tourism practices, absolutely lovely, lovely, LOVELY humans, everyone I interacted with was a delight. What a weird place. I had a great time, overall, and I'm in no hurry to go back. I have started to think that TBEX is more a travel content marketing conference than anything else. As such, dodging the question of ethics is consistent with that stance. You starting asking too many questions about ethics, it really cuts into your margins. I'm an advocate for radical transparency, though that route doesn't particularly fatten your wallet, which is the goal of most content marketing projects.That said, I think it's a shame when, as independent content producers, we don't take the time to dig into the facts -- is this tour responsibly operated, is it green or greenwashed, what's the history of this place, etc. Witnessing a thing first hand is great, but a little desk research is a fine place to start. There are resources that grade tours for their ethics. LMGTFY. I also happen to think that travel media of any size should set an example, and not just by talking the talk. Boycott TBEX feels like an attention grabbing dramatic move, boycott unethical tours is more on target, though I understand the sentiment behind this.
I had a lot of issues with Rick Calvert's statement. Travel is a tremendously political act by its very nature and your actions do imply endorsement whether you say they do or not. If you share something with your constituents, conference attendees or readers, doesn't matter, you're implying that you think this thing is worth sharing. There are some big lessons here that aren't just about dolphin hugging.
I did see the pyramids, that was great. And perhaps I wasn't perfectly clear, but I'd happily go back to the region tomorrow. It's resort-y Cancun proper that holds very limited appeal.
Peripherally related: Media Ethics.
It's not just their modern history. This has been going on for centuries in the region. .
Isn't that the amazing thing about travel? You go though these places, sometimes barely even scratching the surface and, if you're paying attention -- even as a little kid -- you remember, years later that there are Real People Out There. The news, those places, aren't just an abstraction. The people you partied with went to the front while their mothers sat in bunkers knitting sweaters or reading, hoping their kids would come home. Or the kids who gave you such hate at the checkpoint -- they didn't even know you -- they turned militant, made hating a career. Or, hey, maybe they worked for peace, who knows? But you picture them later as REAL, not some place that doesn't really exist for you, and that changes everything about how you imagine the world.
I was on a kibbutz/language program, so I'm not sure about your "Jewish kids on a birthright program" remark. I'm not saying you're wrong, but I'm pretty sure the roots of why I ended up in Israel were based in my Dad picking a "birthright program." Thing is, going abroad will make you open your eyes if you like it or not, and even if you're there as a result of some sort of targeted propaganda, you don't necessarily buy it, wholesale. I didn't, obviously.I wouldn't assume to know what it was like on the Lebanon side when I was there, and I wouldn't say my experience is an analogy for today's war, either, only that I have the tiniest idea of what it's like to live in a country that's at war -- on the Israeli side, at least -- and that there is nothing simple about it. Funny thing, I wasn't even 20. I graduated high school at 17 and off I went. God, I was so YOUNG.
Merida would have made me book a flight, actually. That would have been great. But again, I'm not sure that TBEX isn't operating on a typical convention model. Vegas would make as much sense, or Tampa, or any other city that pulls in The Big Conventions.
Hey, Immersion Travel, I'm your neighbor. Let's connect.
Any chance of a synopsis and/or top ten quotes and/or take-aways? That would be really helpful for those of us without the time (or candidly, inclination) to review a two hour video.
I don't know your backgrounds, so I don't want to assume Ron Mader is not from an indigenous background, but it seems like a conversation about this subject ought to involve indigenous people involved in tourism directly, either as a provider or as the, um, destination.
And regarding improved media coverage, I can't stop thinking about this piece written by an author I met at a writer's conference last week. It's not targeted at travel writers, but the rules absolutely apply,
Ellen, thanks for the comment you left on my site -- you make a insightful remark about "travel as commodity" that probably gets at what's eating me. As for "unusually transparent" -- that's kind of my axe to grind. There's a buzzwordy concept called "radical transparency" and I think this industry could use a big heaping dose of it.
"Which begs the question: is there anything we -- travel writers and travel writing fans -- can do to revitalize our genre?"I think we could start by redefining our genre. There's a lot of, oh, let's call it "vacation writing" out there that comes under the umbrella of travel writing. That stuff isn't notable by default. Then there's "travel writing" that's service style stuff, and sometimes that's notable, but more as an empire or as in "Damn, I'd have crashed and burned in Vietnam without my Lonely Planet." That's notable for it's assistance, and, as Stuart mentions, there's the notability of the folks who build those empires, like Tony Wheeler or the Frommers. Finally, there's literary travel, and (personal bias admitted right up front) and that's where you find fresh amazing voices, great stories, the stuff that anyone who's not traveling is happy to read because it's just damned fine writing. There's a bit of subjectivity here -- but I kind of hated the latter two thirds of Eat Pray Love -- though I'll certainly concede it was worth taking note of. So I suppose reading and/or creating damned fine writing that lives in the realm of travel is a good start. There are some things that we could stop paying attention to, also, that would help too, I think. Fussy, pretentious, annoying selectivity about what we read and share. That.
"although this sounds awful -- chasing out the link baiting outsiders would probably help as well."I don't think this sounds awful. This is Part of the Problem on the web with "content." But I'm not sure we have nay ability to chase them out, I reckon the antidote is to ignore, ignore, ignore and make a valiant attempt to focus our attention elsewhere.
What would be the purpose of said directory? How is it NOT another Wiki with self nomination? Who would use it? Serious researchers -- and editors who hire writers -- take zero note of inclusion in the SATW, NATJA, or the more recently created PTBA and membership is zero indicator of quality, just like having a Wikipedia page is zero indicator of anything other than that you have a Wikipedia page.
HOLD ON THERE: I'm not saying all the members of those orgs are poor quality, I'm saying that a membership listing indicates... a membership listing and little more. It's the peripherals that grand cred.
So, sure. A directly. Why?
Do y'all remember the oil money backed press trips to the US gulf states after the Deepwater Horizon spill? Anyone?
I read this piece twice and it was very timely as I'm in the belly of the beast right now, holed up in my hotel in the midst of a travel marketing event. I'm an invited speaker on the importance of good stories. Oh, the irony. The town is unbearably lovely and those kids should be in school and god the food is fantastic and why is there garbage at the natural sites and... Focus, Mandel.Of greater relevancy is that while here, I somehow got one of the marketers off message and he's given me an amazing idea for a story, not quite intentionally. And as I think about this story, I think:Who is going to pay to bring me back to this country to write it?How much can I sell it for? Where can I sell it? It's not a shiny travel story, but it is grounded in an activity targeted at tourists. I'm not asking the folks here to answer those questions for me, rather, I'm pointing out that when we come across these ideas that make our brains fire, unless we are rich (and I am most decidedly not) we are faced with this most basic question: How can I make this story happen?Many stories happen because marketing organizations -- NOT publishers -- are invested in them. As a result, writers are placed in an awkward position of trying to serve two masters. People WILL insist they're doing it well, but I beg to differ.
I'm a proud tourist, I never need to pass or be some kind of superior "traveler" jerk, nope, and being a tourist is FUN. But I'm also a tediously serious writer and critic of travel writing, and I think this piece says a lot of things that are right on the freaking money. A lot of travel writing is dead boring and the stuff that's good? Yeah, you're less likely by the day to find it under the umbrella of "travel."
People, do you realize the clever ruse the airlines have played on us? They make our discomfort the fault OF THE OTHER PASSENGERS! Way to pass the buck.
Your main @travelfish (Stuart) said it: Complain to the damn airlines. Repeatedly. Over and over and over again. Every single time you are uncomfortable on a flight because the guy in front of you reclined the reclining seat THAT HE PAID FOR or the woman next to you elbows you off the arm rest that THERE'S ONLY ONE OF EVEN THOUGH THERE ARE TWO PEOPLE. Complain. To. The. Airlines.
This idea was kicking around in my head while I was off the grid for a few days, then, I read Frank's piece and it kinda solidified it for me. It looks a little bit like I was piggybacking on his work, but I feel the need (who knows why) to tell you that it's purely a coincidence.
Ron, you're right, we gotta speak up. But also, it's not my job to seek out "clean" places. If I were a tour operator, it would be, or a marketer, but I just write about what I see. So when I write about the town I stayed in -- San Cristobal -- I'll say that it was unbelievably lovely and why aren't those indigenous kids in school instead of hawking trinkets.
The fact that this kind of transparency is notable, well, that's exactly what I'm getting at, isn't it? Though I do appreciate that it's recognized, so that's for that, Mattew.
"How do I make it pay?" is not the same question as "How do I pay for it?" These kinds of stories cost money to create, that's my point. I'm not currently in a situation to self fund, which is too bad because, yeah, that WOULD be idea.
I let my subscription to Nat Geo Traveler lapse. I still subscribe to the cornerstone mag, though, I can't believe how amazed I am with every issue. I also supported Matthew Teller's writing, but I didn't renew -- it's too expensive. Interesting idea in theory, in practice, paying that much money to follow the work of one writer is out of my budget. A shame, because I'd have liked to continue to support that kind of work. You know what I've not bit the bullet on yet but am considering? The Dish. It's effing smart and no, it's not all travel (probably why I'd pay for it) and while I don't always agree with their POV, they present consistently interesting ideas. I find it fascinating that Slate is adding a paywall to part of their content too, I wonder how that's working out for them. But all those indy e-travelmags? No. I might buy a guide or an app, though honestly, in a lot of places in the world, the old print guidebook requires neither power nor internet connection to be effective. (Point of clarification: Maptia is on Medium, no?)
"Respect the readers. Respect the writers. Fuck the advertisers." I think I'm in love. <3
It's probably useful to be more explicit about what model of advertising we would like to fuck right off. I'd happily sell traditional ads, but what everyone wants nowadays is either sponsored contentvertorial (agenda driven content) or links. Fuck THAT stuff and the people who argue that readers don't care. I took that as a throwaway remark until I watched the US FTC session on sponsored content. Readers don't know and advertisers don't want to tell them. They don't care because they can't tell the difference because they are actively being mislead. Fuck that, too.
Ironically, some of the better stuff happening is when the brand relationship is unapologetic and right up front. I like this project by Ford, it's gorgeous, there's some solid stuff here, and there's no sleight of hand hiding who's paying for it.
The first segment of this episode of This American Life is really worth your time and totally related to this discussion.
I actually appreciate that this dude makes a distinction about the term "homeless." It REALLY chaps my hide when the Macbook Air toting holiday apartment renting complaining about the quality of the wifi crowds call themselves homeless, like it's some kind of edgy solidarity with the folks who are truly disadvantaged.
This guy just seems like he's figuring some stuff out about his place in the world, Ain't nothing wrong with that. He doesn't say anything judge-y about folks on vacation or tourists, and like any good unanchored human, he's shrugging off the label we want to apply to him. More of that, please.
I don't agree with everything this guy says, but man, this is a hilarious read. That's some sharp writing. Thanks for posting it.
Stuart's stuff is ace.
I'd add one thing that I hear a lot: Why now?
Editors want to know, in addition to why you, why this story needs to happen now (or within the next six months or so). I suck at solving this problem, but if you can do that, you are way ahead of the gaem.