Scandal is engulfing Lonely Planet after the revelations by an employee, Thomas Kohnstamm, that slabs of the South America guidebooks contributed to were anything but well researched. In a new book entitled Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? Kohnstamm admits to having plagerised and invented information. He claims he didn’t even visit Colombia to write the LP guide ‘because they didn’t pay me enough’; instead, ‘I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating – an intern in the Colombian consulate’.
Khonstamm accepted free travel and his recommendations seem to have been anything but fearlessly independent. Here is one of Kohnstamm’s anecdotes from a restaurant in Brazil he recommended:
“The waitress suggests that I come back after she closes down the restaurant, around midnight,” he writes. “We end up having sex in a chair and then on one of the tables in the back corner.
” That performance earned a guidebook entry describing the restaurant as “a pleasant surprise” where “the table service is friendly”.
According to reports another LP author, Jeanne Oliver, wrote to management regarding this scandal ‘Why did you (management) not understand that when you hire a constant stream of new, unvetted people, pay them poorly and set them loose, that someone, somehow was going to screw you?’.
Apparently Mr Kohnstamm’s books are being ‘urgently reviewed’.
An interesting article from the New Zealand Herald published a week ago with some more quotes from Kohnstamm:
“They [Lonely Planet] know the book is coming out,” he says. “I’ve been contacted by a number of other Lonely Planet writers and everyone who has bothered to be in contact said, ‘Good on you, it’s a story that needed to be told.’
“But the book is fundamentally about my personal experience and not intended as an expose on Lonely Planet. Nor do I attempt to shoot it down. Obviously, when the book was written, it was given a full legal review.”
Kohnstamm notes in the interview that ‘Lonely Planet pays on average less than the minimum hourly wage, often does not support its writers in the field and makes demands almost impossible to meet’.