I’m not really an old-timer but there are some things that still classify me as such. I find myself using the term, “back in my day”, which prompts a what the hell did I say moment. And yes, I’m also that guy you see walking in cities around the world carrying a guidebook. I have a tablet, a smartphone and yet, my comfort deteriorates if that trusty (crap, another old man word) guidebook isn’t tucked away in my backpack. It is true that sometimes I may not even take it out, but just knowing that it is there loading me down with extra pounds for no reason makes me feel more prepared. I’d suggest that this was a trait that was carried down to me from my grandparents from their worldly travels years ago, but they had to have it. I don’t. But if the suggestion is made from others that I simply leave it at home, well, let’s just say that option isn’t up for debate.
A Quick and Substantial Decline
It’s no surprise that the days of travel guides have been in steady decline for quite some time. According to The Economist in an article from April 2013, Frommer’s US sales dropped from $34m to $18m between 2006 and 2012. Lonely Planet’s dropped from $25m to $18m over the same period. The chart to the left shows the drastic decline in sales up to 2012. Continuing that ugly trend on the other side of the spectrum, but still relevant is the fact that Lonely Planet sold for much less than it was purchased in 2013. It sold somewhere in the range of $120 million less. This added even greater scrutiny to the fledgling travel guide industry. Fears ran rampant that the industry was doomed and as technology increased, the written word would certainly decrease. But is a change in the air for us old timers who still need that extra weight in their luggage? Some would suggest yes.
No Money, No Travel
Fast forward to 2016 and The Financial Times, who three years prior had exposed the downward trend with their scathing “Death of the Guidebook”. They suggest that there may be new life for the industry. This past February, they reported, “In the US, guidebook sales had fallen almost 7 per cent in 2014, but in 2015 recovered to grow 1 per cent.”
Ok, so one percent. Gee, making some serious green now huh? But considering how dire the forecasts were just a few years ago, what gives for the increase? It’s hard to substantiate in facts, but a few things do make sense. Consider the years that the dire reports were making the rounds in the media. 2008, 2010, even 2012? I seem to remember a certain economic crisis that started domestically here in the US and quickly made its way around the globe. When recessions occur, it’s the luxuries that soon disappear off the everyday budget. The housing market collapsed, car sales tanked, jewelry sales took a hit, as did recreational vehicles. And yes, the travel industry may have taken one of the biggest hits of all. When you run out of money, you have to make cuts and combine that with the fear of losing jobs and you have the perfect storm for the travel sector.
Wifi Still Impacts Guidebook Sales
Part of the reason that travel guides are still relevant could be attributed to the fact that connecting to the internet in some locales may not be an option. Even if they are, they may not be the best option. Searching all over town looking for a café that will be cooperative enough to let me feed off their wireless doesn’t always work. Enter that trusty guidebook. Yes, there’s no avoiding it, I will look like a complete tourist with my maps and books, but I really don’t care. I am a tourist and I wear that badge proudly. Even those times when my family would rather look the other way as I fumble through the pages looking to find a bite to eat. Heck, sometimes I use the guidebooks to find a café where I can use their wifi. It’s my game of connect the travel dots.
Peering into the future, I feel that guide books will soon find their way into despair. But for the present time, it still has a place in my heart and the hearts of many travelers. I can’t seem to throw them away and I can’t seem to travel without them. When it really gets down to it, I sometimes simply like to scan the bookshelf and remember how lucky we are to do the things we’re doing. And sometimes, that’s all you need to turn to completely turn your day around. Long live the written word!
What’s your take on the travel guide industry?
Live Within Your Means, Travel Beyond Them!