guidebooks filled three niches when they were launched in the
1970s. First, they covered vast areas of the planet that
traditional guidebooks ignored.
information aimed at those interested in the emerging budget,
adventure and ecotourism segments. Most importantly, they were
written for readers who thought of themselves primarily as
travelers, not tourists.
Over the years,
Lonely Planet branched out as a media company, producing phrase
books, cuisine guides, journals and TV shows. And it has recently
published The Travel Book, a fat, richly photographed, soft-cover
book with extraordinary images from around the globe.
On the occasion of
the release of that book, I was invited by Lonely Planet to join
consumer travel journalists and travel research organizations for a
symposium at the United Nations to discuss, in essence, why more
Americans arent traveling abroad, and what might inspire them to do
so. The kick-off question focused on the statistic that only about
20% of Americans have passports. Why isnt that number
Taken together, the
answers created a mosaic of fear: Fear of terrorism or a hostile
reception, worries about lack of hygiene or medical facilities and
discomfort with foreign languages, foods and practices.
whose father, Arthur, launched a previous revolution in guidebooks,
all but said, Its the economy, stupid. The medium income for a
family of four in the U.S. is $40,000, she said. Why get a passport
if you cant afford to travel abroad?
Beth Harpaz, the
travel editor of the Associated Press, noted that feedback from the
editors of travel sections for AP-affiliated newspapers support the
notion that when many Americans think of travel, they think of
getting in the car and keeping expenses in check.
The editor of one
paper asked me to send more stories about destinations that readers
could drive to from Buffalo. At the time, I was preparing to send
out a story about scuba diving in Kenya, Harpaz said.
One wonders whether
the number of passport holders would be significantly less than 20%
if it werent for changes made in the 1990s that required passports
for visits to Canada and Mexico.
I think fear and,
yes, economics each has its place in the puzzle, but I also think
both of these can be countered by stimulating curiosity about the
world. It can be accomplished through schools, particularly through
language classes and high school trips abroad. Take a 16-year-old
out of the country and his or her life will be changed
At the U.N., the
group discussed ways our businesses could boost interest in travel.
There was no obvious answer. But for the trade, I have a suggestion
that requires a bit of enlightened self-interest on the part of
travel agencies. An agency owner doesnt need to stimulate the whole
country to travel -- just her or his community.
getting involved with school boards to advocate for language
programs and study-abroad opportunities can enrich the community
and strengthen their businesses.
As the bumper
sticker says: Think Globally, Act Locally.