Travel writing: how not to do it

We’ve had some interesting posts on travel writing lately, including Don George’s secret formula for writing a successful travel narrative and Pam Mandel’s report on Book Passage. While studying good writing is vital to learning how to write, it’s also important to study bad writing so you know what not to do.

Talented writer Steve Almond tackles this for us with his hilarious skewering of Toto’s 1982 pop hit Africa. I never liked this song, although it was the background theme to far too many high school memories. While this is a song and not a travel article, it includes many of the mistakes sloppy writers make when covering travel in general and Africa in particular. Watch, laugh, and learn.

Thanks to my friend Hannah for showing me this vid!

A&K and Fairmont Earth Hour ideas will have tangible results

Earth Hour is on Saturday, March 28 at 8:30 PM. The hospitality and travel industry seems to have embraced this commitment to environmentalism. There are plenty of noteworthy initiatives out there intended to show support for a planet that could probably use our help. Of course, some are more interesting than others. I’m pretty interested in what’s going on at Abercrombie & Kent and Fairmont.

Upscale travel firm A&K is taking action at each of its 62 offices around the world. Outdoor signs will be turned off, and only emergency lighting will be used indoors. This will save 620 light-hours of electricity. And, they’re going to shut off the air conditioning for 90 minutes before the end of the work day, lowering power consumption for this period by 18 percent.

The company is also turning its corporate social responsibility gaze outward. Sanctuary Camps & Lodges are going to host stargazing parties, thanks to the dark skies. They are also planning to turn off generators and cut power consumption by 50 percent for Earth Hour (at 13 properties in Africa).

A&K’s Sun Boat III and Sun Boat IV will turn off their generators, as well, operating only with emergency lighting. Guests will be able to enjoy the bright stars – because of the desert air – in Upper Egypt. Eclipse in the Galapagos will host a presentation on the Sun Deck and reduce the use of power by 30 percent.And, the company hopes that Earth Hour goodwill is contagious. Employees have pledged to save 2,960 light-hours, and A&K’s suppliers, including restaurants and hotels, have been encouraged to support Earth Hour, with hundreds agreeing to do so.

I’m also pretty impressed with what Fairmont is doing for Earth Hour (which you can track via Twitter). This company’s made it a habit to stay out in front of the market when it comes to corporate social responsibility, and it’s ready to play from Dallas to Dubai – at all 56 properties. In addition to its usual environmentally sound initiatives, some Fairmont properties are taking specific, unique action.

At the Fairmont St. Andrews, guests can choose at check-in the power they want to use: nuclear, solar or wind. They’ll also receive compact fluorescent light bulbs. But, this is just the beginning. If you decide to sweat it out in the gym’s spin class, the energy you create will be converted to kilowatt hours to show just how much power you produce. The class is sponsored to provide a cash donation to the World Wildlife Fund. Kids will be able to plant their own saplings. The initiatives at the St. Andrews property are designed to have lasting results.

In Alberta, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise will light up its side of the lake with ice luminaries. Guests will be invited to gather around a fire and enjoy some old-fashioned storytelling under the stars. This hotel is committed to Earth Hour year-round, with 50 percent of its power coming from a mix of wind and run-of-river electricity generation.

Over in Kenya, at the Fairmont Mara Safari Club, the lantern-lit Boma will be a place for guests to gather and listen to a local naturalist discuss conservation and the environment – the “Maasai” way. It won’t be just lectures, though, as Maasai dancers will provide entertainment.

The Fairmont Zanzibar, Tanzania will celebrate Earth Hour for the entire day. Guests will be invited to sail on historical dhows on clear Indian Ocean waters. Chef Ric and his team will use charcoal grills to prepare seafood on the beach, delighting palates without disrupting the environment.

Are you doing anything for Earth Hour? Let me know at tom.johansmeyer [at] or

Face to Face with West Africa’s Wildlife

The Penjari Biosphere is a wildlife preserve in a remote corner of the West African nation of Benin. Like many such wildlife areas, it struggles with poachers and environmental problems, but tourism, in the form of photo safaris like the one in the video, is an important source of income for the area.

Even the most jaded tourist, wary of tourist traps and non-authentic experiences, would find a safari like the one in the video exciting. The fact that getting up-close and personal with wild animals is an attractive proposition is nothing new to the African tourism industry, but fully capitalizing on the tourist potential while protecting the wildlife for future tourism is the challenge. But, there are now economic reasons for creating a sustainable tourist model. The more interest in wildlife tourism grows, the more demand there will be for sustainability.

This video was taken in early morning, when the Penjari’s animals all head for the nearest watering hole. Check out the menacing elephant about a minute-and-a-half in.
Video courtesy of Boing Boing

Kwanzaa Parade

A friend of mine just shot me an email telling me to tune into KPFK 90.7 fm radio out of Los Angeles to chill out to some very soothing music and he was right. Thanks to his thinking of me I found yet another cool holiday event that seems worth all your attention. The 5th Annual Kwanzaa Heritage Parade and Festival kicks off December 30, 2006 from 10am-7pm in Leimert Park Village. For those who aren’t quite hip to the African American holiday which takes place every year from December 26th to January 1st, it was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga and is derived from the Swahili word KWANZA, meaning first fruit. Though the roots of the holiday are African an extra ‘A’ was added by Dr. Maulana Karenga to distinguish differences between African and Afro-Americans.

Having never gone to a Kwanzaa parade or any event for that matter in my past it sounds like a great cultural learning experience if all else. They break down the meaning behind each day. The first is Umoja or Unity where individuals strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race. Find out what the other six days represent and make plans to attend if you’re around So. Cal.