The traditional journey guidebook are nonetheless widespread
If you are over 30, this was probably your guide for your first trip abroad. If you’re under 30 you might be wondering what all the fuss is about.
The classic travel guide popularized by the likes of Lonely Planet and Rick Steve used to be the first in many backpacks for backpackers, but sales fell 40% between 2005 and 2012, suggesting observers that they were a thing of the past .
Fast forward to 2021 and some printed guides continue to thrive. In fact, they are still the point of contact for many people’s travel knowledge. How did they survive? Here’s a look at the reasons for their stubborn refusal to die.
The digital age
In a digital world, we’ve gotten used to having everything available at the touch of a button, with more choices than ever before. If we want sneakers, then you can find the best value for money on a price comparison site. If you want to try your luck, a lottery website will have hundreds to choose from – travel books have been slow to pick up on this at first. But now many large publications have interactive websites where you can click on the destination of your choice and read a guide about it.
Not to mention the appeal of apps and e-books. With virtually every travel specialist offering them these days, they are cheaper and more portable than paper copies – perfect for travelers. A quick tap on a smartphone gets all the information you need.
“Surely this will lead to less printed books?” You can ask. Not quite. Short online instructions serve as a kind of advertisement for printed editions. If someone likes the writing style of the internet version, they can buy a hard copy to read on the train or on the beach. You might also be tempted to buy them for someone’s birthday: after all, travel guides still make great gifts.
Printed copies are also a great reminder of a trip you’ve been on. They say “I’ve been there” when visitors come by and inspect your bookshelves.
Have you ever used a digital travel guide and were frustrated with the out of sync maps and charts? It’s a common problem: flipping through these documents online can be difficult, especially on a mobile device.
Physical copies continue to provide a more enjoyable browsing experience. The layout is clearer, the pictures are easier to look at – and many people prefer the simple pleasure of reading prints rather than staring at a screen, much like regular books. Printed instructions often come with a fold-out map that is easy to spread out on a table and browse on your next step.
That doesn’t mean it will always be like this. Technology is advancing rapidly, so it will only be a matter of time before e-guides become much more interactive, for example with zoomable maps and higher resolution.
However, right now, many customers prefer the feel of a book in their hands and reading to prints rather than pixels.
The trend towards specialist books
Printed travel guides have survived thanks to another factor – the niche market. Travelers who have a deep interest in a particular place often find that there is a lot of noise online: oceans with TripAdvisor reviews and Google reviews aimed at a general audience.
These ratings are also often manipulated by a shop or restaurant’s clever marketing strategies – the one with the highest rating isn’t always the best.
This may be useful for someone who is in a hurry, but it doesn’t necessarily satisfy someone with expertise in Parisian cuisine who, for example, wants to find the best restaurant.
Such a saturated online industry has created a demand for more specialized “travel literature”, often in the form of a printed book. Travelers might want a literary tour of Shakespeare’s Britain or a guide to fine dining in San Sebastian – things your typical online e-book doesn’t offer.
People planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip need more than the typical internet article and are ready to invest in something with more authority. something tangible that the author has researched and curated a lot.
While online guides are a useful tool for the masses, there will always be a portion of the market that needs a little more niche for specialized printed books to thrive.
A digital future?
While printed travel guides have fought a fierce battle so far, can they continue like this?
Technology improvement seems to be its greatest threat. As soon as e-guides offer a comprehensive service with interactive maps and videos, they can forget about the descent of the printed guide. The arrival of 5G will push this even further. AI guides offer options like virtual tours to destinations that make you feel like you are there in person, or they could even start organizing the trip for you once you’ve made up your mind. Even specialist literature can find a challenger in a hyper-digital age that makes it possible to access any kind of niche information within a few seconds.
Such a digital future might prove too distant for our paper manuals and we could see the era of the e-guide really begin.