Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The "Lonely Planet" Problem

Lori and I are in Goa now - Palolem, to be more precise, and we are again seeing the "Lonely Planet" problem. (It's really not a problem for us here, but the principle still holds.) The Lonely Planet problem is this: when the clever folks at Lonely Planet find some wonderful undiscovered nook in India and write about it, approximately a gajillion tourists all go there and discover that the nook is now no longer undiscovered. Doh!

We first hit this in Jaisalmer with camel safaris. The Sam sand dune became overrun with tourists, so people started going off the beaten path to Khurie. Now Khurie is crowded too - we didn't find that out until we were in Jaisalmer - it's hard to plan everything by remote, but we were able to set up a safari using Ganesh Travels. (They're in Lonely Planet too...)

Palolem is one of the southernmost beach villages in Goa - it's a beautiful beach, maybe 1/4 to 1/2 mile long, with two roads nearby filled with a combination of shops and restaurants and some hotels. Near the beach are thatched huts, which provide the lowest comfort (but probably also lowest environmental footprint) lodging. The lonely planet issue is: Palolem used to be an escape from tourists, but now it is just another tourist beach village.

That's okay with me though; seeing seven cities in ten days was exhausting, and the pace in Goa is a lot slower - it's not crowded like Rajasthan, Mumbai or Delhi. After all the traveling, a few days on the beach is just about right.


Malcolm said...

Hey Bob,

Working at Lonely Planet I see and understand this problem too. It's very much related to the destination, though. We hear it about Thailand and India, we hear it much less about Europe and America, and hardly ever for places in Central Asia or the Middle East, even though we have guides covering all of them.

Wherever there's tourism, development tends to follow (with, it has to be said, benefits to local economies). The difficult bit (though I believe more countries and areas are waking up to this) is how to direct the development so it enhances, or at least doesn't detract from, what made the place special to begin with. That's definitely what I'd like to see - and maybe Lonely Planet has more of a role to play? I'm pretty sure we'd prefer to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem (along with all our guidebook and website publishing competitors!).

Benjamin Supnik said...

Malcolm - you've hit the nail on the head...the frustrating part of development in India is that so often the results are harmful to the locale being developed, whether it's water shortages in Jaisalmer to air polution in Agra. When the guide books call out specific environmental problems, that's a very good thing, but the problem of short-term development seems to go beyond tourism here.

rompom said...

I couldn't agree more - Lonely Planet seems to be one of the by words of all local businesses in almost every developing country which they cover. It's a pain. That said I guess the only reason this has happened is because so many travellers enjoy using the guides. Catch 22 I guess.

I think there may be a shift with UGC and the internet though - a more rounded offering in terms of recommendations etc. Also sites like www.crashpadder.com will help people get a real local experience when they travel, avoid the beaten track etc.

Until that is easy, however, I'll still be armed with an LP guide almost everywhere I go.