At a recent travel bloggers’ event a speaker declared to his audience “You are the travel experts!”
I was immediately uncomfortable when I read this statement and it got me thinking about the term ‘travel expert’ and where, if ever, it is an appropriate label to use. Is there such a thing as an expert to whom we should turn for our travel advice, or is it just a meaningless phrase that sits on the profiles and biographies of a few ambitious folks in the travel business? Who can I trust for information when planning a trip?
A commonly accepted piece of wisdom for travellers is to seek local advice. This is very sensible in many respects, for example when searching for the trendy new restaurants, or knowing where is safe/unsafe to venture at night. Local advice tends to slip up however when suggesting accommodation (who checks out the hotels in their own town?) or in trying to avoiding crowded sites (locals will often avoid the most popular locations that as a visitor you’ve come to see, touristy or not).
Another group where there is a wide variation in quality and trustworthiness is the travel blogging community. While many travel blogs provide inspiration to visit a destination with great photography, reliable objective writing is harder to find. I’ve seen this from both sides and have to admit that on the handful of press trips I’ve been on, it’s been very hard to get to know a place well. Local arrangements are often made on commercial or political decisions between businesses and trip sponsors. Breaking away from a trip itinerary is essential in order to get a real flavour of a place but this is often not easy. And when everything is laid on by the hosts it’s very hard to make an objective judgement on whether a hotel, restaurant, museum or activity is actually worth the money.
I’ll always look at whether a trip is sponsored. Rightly or wrongly, I’ll instinctively pay closer attention to the advice offered by someone who has paid their own way.
There are great bloggers who manage to produce consistently high quality posts that provide both inspiration and reliable practical content, but as an independent traveller it can be difficult to find a blog that provides the type of information that I am searching for.
A good guide book provides a professionally researched pool of useful knowledge for the visitor. Hotels, restaurants, things to do and local practicalities help me to plan and enjoy a trip. The key word here is ‘good’. I’ve used guide books where I got to know the author’s likes and dislikes and developed a firm trust in their recommendations. I’ve read others where by the end of the first week I’m wondering whether they’re writing about the same place I’m visiting.
Decent guide book authors can make a good claim to being travel experts in that they have spent a solid chunk of time visiting the same places that you are planning to see and have offered their recommendations on what is worth visiting. It’s up to the reader to make their own judgement of how good the guide book is and whether the author’s preferences match their own; not always an easy task.
For those who make their arrangements through an agent or tour operator there should be expert advice on hand before making a booking. Staffing a good travel agency is not about training the staff to know how to read destination information from their monitors. It’s about finding people with a passion for travel and helping them if necessary to gain first hand knowledge of the places your customers will be asking about. I’ve been most impressed when I’ve called companies and quickly been connected with someone who has been to the place I want to go and can chat about the different options available to me that suit my preferences, but this is too often not the case.
Who do you consider to be travel experts and whose advice do you trust when planning a trip?