New book exposes travel industry’s seedy underbelly

I haven’t had the chance to pick it up yet, but Chuck Thompson’s new book Smile When You’re Lying is getting rave reviews from the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and International Herald Tribune, among many others. Thompson is a long-time travel writer and photographer, and he’s fed up with his editors’ insistence that every destination he visits be portrayed as an idyllic paradise– a concept he has dubbed “travel porn.”

The book’s website describes the premise as follows: “[Thompson] has had enough. Enough of the half-truths demanded by magazine editors, enough of the endlessly recycled clichés regarded as good travel writing, and enough of the ugly secrets fiercely guarded by the travel industry. But mostly, he’s had enough of returning home from assignments and leaving the most interesting stories and the most provocative insights on the editing-room floor.”

An excerpt of the book is available here, including a pretty accurate take-down of the writing in those glossy travel magazines:

“The biggest reason travel writing is dull… is that most of it is devoid of anything approaching an authentic point of view. On those rare occasions when travel writers are allowed to express an actual opinion, it must be a completely harmless one that’s also shared by the travel industry at large. These are usually offered as hard-hitting commentaries describing how “quaint” a hotel room is, how “mind-blowing” a nature park is, or how “mouthwatering” a chef’s specialty is. Everything is superlative. Like being a sports fan, one of the best things about being a traveler is complaining about the parts you don’t like-hating the Dallas Cowboys not only doesn’t make me any less a football fan, it probably makes me a more avid one. This is a concept the travel industry has never embraced.”