Eco-tourism 3 - The guide book
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Date: 12 October, 2002

Rickshaw

Kollam, Kerala, Southern India -the ubiquitous rickshaw.
Photo: Andre Shine
 
'The author has the power to dictate the fate of individual hoteliers, restaurateurs and of local religious and historic ites…exclusion from the index can be fatal.'

 

In the third of her six-part series on eco-tourism, Andre Shine outlines the value and the deficiencies of the well-thumbed guide book when travelling responsibly.

Fond and frustrating
Often my guide book returns home having aged well beyond its years - a metaphor for my own beleaguered state. As my most precious companion it provides compulsive reading from pre-departure to long after completion of my travels. It holds both fond and frustrating memories.

Independent or dependent?
Typically when we arrive in a strange environment we need to find a reference point. What more obvious than the omniscient guide book - a comforting voice that speaks our language! Inevitably guide books wield a great deal of influence on the passage of independent travellers. And by the same token the author has the power to dictate the fate of individual hoteliers, restaurateurs and of local religious and historic sites. So can we truly say that independent travellers who congregate at listed bars and restaurants - often to seek fellow travellers - are independent?

This can lead to a downward spiral. Exclusion from the index can be fatal and makes life almost impossible for new entrants.

Whose eye view?
Guide books that focus on developing nations are often written by authors from a completely different culture. This means their advice is likely to accommodate western aspirations, but how true is their interpretation, and is their advice in harmony with local communities?

The price is… wrong
Immediately upon going to press a guide book begins to date. This has a major impact on how the reader negotiates their budget. High inflation, typical in developing nations, exacerbates price distortions. Armed with prices, quoted from guide books 2 or 3 years old, often leaves travellers feeling quite justified in sticking to their guns. Language barriers don't alleviate the situation.

Clearly this isn't always the case but in 'has been' destinations, where the number of independent travellers has diminished, the hostel owner becomes vulnerable to aggressive haggling.

Changing places
Fortunately for the majority of us travellers, who want to capture these soulful faces with history etched deep into their smiles, there are some simple guidelines to follow. Another classic oversight can be variants in the location of high traffic landmarks, such as transport terminals, on the local map.

Notably I found myself driving a hard bargain, on arrival at a bus station, on the outskirts of Madurai, Tamil Nadu. It transpired that since the publication of my 'less faithful' guide book, the bus station had been relocated several kilometres further from the centre of town. In shame I conceded on the - fair - asking price.

If in doubt, observe the local transactional activities - they may provide a good source for measuring the going rate..

This article is part of a series - use these links to view the other eco-tourism articles
Eco Tourism 1
Eco Tourism 2

Eco Tourism 4
Eco Tourism 5
Eco Tourism 6

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