Some time ago I followed a resident travel writer vs visiting travel writer debate on social media where contributors discussed who could provide the greater/fresher insight into a destination.
Having lived in the Canary Islands and Portugal, and compiled Slow Travel guides for various locations around Europe, Andy and I have been in both positions. There’s no doubt the depth of knowledge gained through living somewhere is far greater when you’re a resident writer. But there’s also an argument that visiting writers might see things with fresher, more inquisitive eyes.
Having looked at clouds from both sides now, and knowing how the knowledge of the places I’ve lived compares with that of the ones I’ve visited, I’d veer toward the resident travel writer as the more reliable source of insightful knowledge for travellers who want to delve deeper. Mostly that’s thanks to my old friend, unconscious incompetence. Writers don’t know what they don’t know.
Various travel writers’ conferences on Tenerife threw up examples which illustrate this.
At one, over a decade ago, Tenerife Tourism asked us to attend events, sharing our knowledge of the island with anyone who was interested. Andy and I were only writing about Tenerife and the other Canary Islands at the time and, at that point, didn’t have any contacts/friends in the travel writing world outside of the Canaries, so were treated as local ‘journos’ reporting on the conference.
That itself was interesting, revealing differences in individual approaches to a destination which was a first-time visit for many, even though they knew of its ‘reputation.’ One female travel writer got a bit sniffy when we did our usual, enthusiastically spouting all sorts of insider information about Tenerife. At one point she interrupted, saying, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be interviewing me?’ Contrastingly, another writer picked up on our knowledge. We ended up taking him to off-the-beaten-track restaurants and bars, introducing him to the sort of local food and drink that didn’t usually make it into British travel articles about Tenerife.
Following the conference as a destination ‘insider,’ but an outsider as far as the delegates were concerned, made me realise just how much visiting travel writers were at the mercy of whoever showed them around. From a position of knowledge about the destination, noting where they were taken and what they were shown proved a valuable lesson for our own future travels.
In one instance, a guide described Vilaflor in the hills above the south of Tenerife as being in the north to a coachload of travel writers. Why would someone who knew it wasn’t do this? I can only surmise it was because the coach had driven into dense cloud and it was considered more beneficial for tourism promotional purposes to reinforce the mantra that the south, where most tourists go, is always sunny, while the north is cloudy … even when it’s not actually the north. It’s something I witnessed many times on Tenerife, locations mysteriously changing compass positions whenever they were affected by bad weather. This has led to geographic confusion among writers who don’t know the island.
On another occasion, writers were taken to a restaurant in a remote coastal hamlet for a traditional seafood lunch. It had some chronicling their experiences in print of going way off the tourist trail to discover a different side of Tenerife. What they didn’t know was that on other days of the week, coach excursions from the southern resorts descended on this restaurant in their droves. Not being aware of this wasn’t the fault of the writers, they were misled.
Seeking a unique ‘angle’ can lead visiting writers down some dodgy alleys. Our main interaction with other British residents of Puerto de la Cruz was while watching Manchester United games in The Beehive Bar. One of these, let’s call him Billy, was an amiable guy who was something of a small-scale Del Boy, involved in various money-making schemes. His latest was introducing Madge-from-Benidorm mobility scooters for tourists who couldn’t be arsed walking around the town. One visiting travel writer got talking to him, and his naff money-making scheme subsequently ended up in print as a new initiative designed to make Puerto de la Cruz more accessible.
Then there was the writer who, after being taken to the infamous Veronica’s (an unofficial excursion), posted on social media about finding the Tenerife the authorities didn’t want visiting writers to see. That would be the Tenerife that millions of holidaymakers knew, and which had been the subject of numerous travel articles and TV series. It was hardly a scoop.
These are only an amuse-bouche. There’s a feast of other anecdotal evidence.
One destination. Numerous pitfalls. Apply this to any location and it highlights the potential problems visiting travel writers face.
In terms of any debate involving resident travel writer v visiting travel writer, I don’t believe there’s a definitive conclusion as to which is better placed to provide travellers with useful and accurate destination information. In a way, it’s a case of how long is a piece of string? It all depends on the string.
Living in popular tourist destinations, and seeing what others have written about these places, taught me that much of the time it’s down to the individual writer, irrespective of whether they live in the place they’re writing about or not. The big problem for travel writers visiting any destination can be when someone else controls the agenda. Sometimes that pays off, at other times it can lead to variations of the sort of examples above.