A Very Lonely Planet

A Very Lonely Planet

lonelyplanetArusha is NOT one of the 8 worst cities in the world. It is the 8th most HATED city, so there!

In October Lonely Planet published a list of the world’s most hated cities, and Arusha was 8th. As for lists, this was about the 8000th mistake Lonely Planet has made about East Africa.

First, a reality check. Arusha is one of my favorite African cities. It’s a modern, fast growing city doing just fine, in fact superbly by African standards. You’d never know it was so large, because it’s so pretty. It has some serious crime which you can avoid by not walking the streets at night, and a lot of conmen which you can avoid by not being conned.

Sound familiar? Sound like, well maybe, Chicago?

I love Chicago.

One of the authors of the original list, Vivek Wagle, tried to create a conundrum but instead just revealed poor journalism.

A Lonely Planet connundrum it is not. It’s a mistake, no complex idea.

By the way, here are the other cities that were more “hated” than Arusha at 8th:

Detroit, Accra, Seoul, Los Angeles, Wolverhampton (England), San Salvador, and Chennai (India).

That list is, of course, a conundrum because those cities have little in common with one another except that they are cities (well, not sure about Wolverhamwhat?), but reduced to the little we know about the big ones (Detroit, Accra, Seoul and LA) it’s really not a bad group to find yourself in.

Lonely Planet is becoming very lonely. More and more astute travelers know to politely acknowledge it but never take it to the café.

In the beginning, the LP idea was a pretty good one. It was detail on the cheap. Find some inveterate, young (and necessarily poor) traveler who was spending a lot of time in some foreign place, and pay him/her outrageously poor wages to write a chapter.

It worked when Americans just began their love of traveling the world. There were many really good young explorers with a bit of their own capital who loved the exposure that publication provided.

But there was never any fact-checking. It was basically all opinion. Fortunately for the idea, the opinion was usually positive, because these were kids awestruck by a new place, energized by a feeling of discovery, and elated by the idea they were now an author.

Lonely Planet pays about $500 for a chapter about a country. In the old days, some of that was extremely good stuff. I particularly liked the condensation of history, for example. But it’s still pitiful wages.

But as time went on, and book sales zoomed, and the owners got profitable and there were lots more people traveling everywhere, journalism crept into the credo.

Are you sure that that tented camp didn’t have a bathroom attached?

Fact check. Holy smokes, who’s going to find that one out?

So more and more scrutiny developed and in the 90s LP submitters had to spend at least one cycle of regularity in each place they reviewed.

That was expensive. Paying for that might eke into the outlandish profits of the publisher! Two nights in a tented camp in East Africa costs an entire chapter’s pay!


The camp comps you. That means takes you free, because the camp knew it would then appear in Lonely Planet.

Get my drift?

All of us began to know this. I remember during my close association with Hoopoe Safaris of Tanzania that the marketing manager’s main call to arms was sounded each time a Lonely Planet editor came to down.

We wined and dined and put him/her up free at every place we owned or might soon.

And guess what else? We bought adds in some Lonely Planet publications. It was called “synergy in marketing.”

And we got rave, rave reviews, and it paid handsomely. I never thought the marketing manager was very good, but he claimed in one meeting that a quarter of our bookings came from Lonely Planet.

In today’s internet world TripAdvisor has replaced Lonely Planet.

Lonely Planet still has great background. As a Cliff Notes guide to a place you’ll be traveling, it’s still worth the buy. But as far as its recommendations and opinions about the cities or places you might stay, forget it. It’s all staged.

But then, you know that. Lonely Planet is lonelier than ever.