We all read the newspapers that tend to reflect our views. I’m no different from anyone else in that respect. But what I’ve never been able to understand is why anyone reads a newspaper that treats them – the reader – with utter contempt. I’m referring to the newspapers that dumb down articles, publish transparent lies (as opposed to political bias that is a given), and treat social media threads as sources of news. This has mostly involved the more newsworthy aspects of newspaper journalism. But increasingly I’ve witnessed it happen with travel writing.
This week, I read two articles where travel writing crossed into out and out fiction.
The Daily Express published a piece about ‘The beautiful seaside town jam-packed with expats where it’s 24C in January.’ The ‘seaside town’ in question was Playa de las Américas on Tenerife. I’ve argued the merits of Playa de las Américas in the past. It’s not my ideal travel destination, but it does what it was built to do – give tourists a great holiday – extremely well. However, it is a purpose-built resort rather than a seaside town. Whether it’s beautiful or not is entirely subjective. Apart from some questionable descriptions, where the article started to veer into fiction was in its claim the resort ‘has managed to retain its charm and authenticity.’ I’m not sure what authenticity the writer is referring to. I’ve got Tenerife guidebooks older than Playa de las Américas.
The article then spectacularly somersaulted into fantasy island territory by stating the town is a blend of modern amenities and traditional Canarian architecture. Seriously? But it gets worse/better. Apparently, visitors can ‘wander through historic districts that offer a glimpse into Tenerife’s past.’ Unless the author is referring to the 1980s, they are taking the proverbial.
It is appalling. Criminally misleading. It’s bad enough someone wrote this fiction, but where was the editor to bounce it back? To add insult to injury, two of the photos labelled as being Playa de las Américas were of Costa Adeje, in the neighbouring municipality.
It’s like the paper simply doesn’t care, certainly not about its readers.
The other article also involved Tenerife (I have Google alerts set) and was in The Independent. It concerned a family holiday but was being peddled as a guide to Tenerife, even though said family didn’t stray far from their hotel. In fact, the language in the article gave the impression Tenerife consisted of only the stretch of land between Tenerife South Airport and Guia de Isora.
The family body-swerved ‘the party resorts’ of Los Cristianos and Las Américas in favour of Costa Adeje and Guia de Isora. Anyone who considers Los Cristianos, a favourite with mature northern Europeans, a party resort must have lived a pretty sheltered life. Costa Adeje consists of a number of smaller resort areas, some tranquil, others more lively … a hell of a lot livelier than Los Cristianos.
A section about the best family-friendly restaurants on Tenerife mentioned only ones in the immediate vicinity of where the family stayed. The writer also ‘oversold’ the abundance of traditional restaurants in some areas. Guia de Isora does have traditional restaurants. Costa Adeje not so much. Like Las Américas, Costa Adeje’s resorts are mostly purpose-built. Subsequently, the majority of restaurants there exist for the tourist trade. One of the ‘traditional’ restaurants referenced was Saúco in Alcalá, which is a traditional town. I like Saúco, but with a menu focussing on pastas and pizzas, it’s not what I’d class as a traditional Canarian restaurant.
The family stayed at the Gran Melia Palacio de Isora (an excellent hotel), describing it as being ‘Near the foot of Tenerife’s famous volcano, Mount Teide.’ This isn’t a lie, so long as you accept any part of Tenerife’s coastline as being near the foot of Mount Teide. Does Costa Adeje really have the largest population of pilot whales around the island? I asked myself on reading this claim in the article. In a way it’s not an outright fiction, but only because the water off Costa Adeje is part of the Teno-Rasca Marine Strip, an area that stretches the entire length of the south west coast, taking in the municipalities of Arona, Guia de Isora, Santiago del Teide, and Buenavista del Norte. And it is this marine strip which has one of the largest populations of pilot whales in the world. Similarly, when talking about shopping on Tenerife, the article informed us ‘you won’t find shopping malls and retail parks.’ Not only is that incorrect, they even exist in Costa Adeje.
It’s easy to make mistakes – get a name wrong, or a small detail. That’s not what this is though. It’s as if the writer sat on their sunbed round the pool and rattled off the article from their very limited experience of Tenerife without bothering to fact check/research anything at all.
It’s not good travel writing in the first place. But once again, where was the editor in all of this? On a coffee break? In both examples, it’s not just the writer who is responsible for articles riddled with inaccuracies. Both show contempt for readers. What is telling is neither author is a travel writer, and maybe that’s where the problem lies – newspapers cutting corners.
Thankfully, this week I also read one of the best pieces of travel writing I’ve seen in a while. It was in the National Geographic and was forwarded to us by a woman we worked with from Emilia Romagna Tourism. It concerned one of the holidays we were involved with creating there last year and made me immediately want to return. Here’s the link to remind what proper travel writing looks like.