The world demands payment sooner or later, which is how we arrived at this uneasy nexus of reportage and promotion which is often referred to as “destination” travel writing, but which has one goal: to generate tourism.
This great article from Frank Bures in Nowhere magazine has been echoing around the internet since it was first published. Little surprise as it is an honest piece about press trips and their impact on travel writing.
Having accepted a press trip to Guyana, Frank Bures has second thoughts and walks us through how press trips work, why they are available and where they fit into the “vortex of sales” surrounding the travel industry.
He observes that travel writing is driven by pressure to “sell the trip” which results in boosterism and cheery articles. Consequently, much travel writing has become a sales extension of the global travel industry rather than being journeys by proxy, prompted by curiosity and something to be appreciated in their own right.
It is no longer travel writing. It’s tourism writing. And tourism is boring.
As the tourism sector grows, the commercial imperative checks the freedom to create interesting work. By implication it also limits the range of destinations open to travel writing as the place must be capable of being sold. If the reader can’t buy the flight, book the hotel or take the tour, what is the point of the article? To effectively sell a destination, the reader must be able mentally to substitute themselves for the author and imagine themselves enjoying that experience. The journey or travel experience in the article must be accessible.
The function of this type of writing is different to the type of travel writing as explained by Paul Theroux:
In a sense, as a writer you are doing the travel for the reader…So I get the impression that people who read my books don’t intend to take that trip themselves. In an ideal world they would like to travel alone and go to malarial swamps, but they haven’t got the time. They only have a couple of weeks vacation. So the idea that I’m in New Guinea, facing down boys with spears saying they are going to kill me, is a thrill for them. People read travel books for the same reason that they read novels. To transport them.
Theroux observes that, good travel writing like travel itself, is a metaphor for life; a “leap in the dark”, about someone finding their way and awakening “all our old fears of danger and risk”. While the best travel writing might (and hopefully will) inspire the reader to go and out and make a journey themselves, that is not necessarily its point, unlike its tourist writing counterpart.
Branding Guyana is well written and makes some interesting points about the state of travel writing. There isn’t much about Guyana in the article although to be fair, that was not really Bures’ point. We do however glean enough to know that Guyana is a place that does not lend itself to breezy clichés and where the phrase ‘creature comforts’ is more likely to mean that your chigger bites have stopped itching. Guyana is therefore probably a place where travel involves a bit more travail than tourism.