5 reasons to be outraged by the Lonely Planet fraud

We reported earlier today on a Lonely Planet writer named Thomas Kohnstamm who admitted to making up large parts of his books, and also said that he had never even been to Colombia, a country he covered for the guidebook series. In case this guy’s behavior hasn’t already pissed you off, here’s five reasons why it should.

5. His sickening sense of entitlement. Kohnstamm’s complaint that LP doesn’t pay its writers enough might be well-founded. I’ve certainly never seen any of the guidebook writers I know driving Ferraris or polishing their bling. But to sabotage your employer because you believe you’re underpaid is stupid. There are literally thousands of people who would love to write for LP, and I’m sure no one was holding a gun to this guy’s head to write these guidebooks. If he didn’t like the terms of employment, he should have quit and let LP find somebody else. It wouldn’t be hard.

4. His shameless self-promotion. In an amazing coincidence, Kohnstamm is set to release a new book next week called Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism. The book, from what I can tell, is the story of how Kohnstamm manages to embody every bad stereotype about travelers there is, and he comes off sounding like a complete boor who’s just dying to tell the world about his unbelievably cool life. Here’s an excerpt:

“The waitress suggests that I come back after she closes down the restaurant, around midnight. We end up having sex in a chair and then on one of the tables in the back corner. I pen a note in my Moleskine that I will later recount in the guidebook review, saying that the restaurant ‘is a pleasant surprise . . . and the table service is friendly.'”

You had sex with a girl? In a foreign country?! Cool!

It’s worth mentioning that his shameless self-promotion is working. News outlets like CNN, Reuters, and many others have picked up the story, always including the name of his new book in their articles. And there’s a picture of it above. More proof that the most effective kind of self-promotion is the purely shameless variety.

3. He undoubtedly led travelers astray. LP reps say they haven’t found any mistakes in Kohnstamm’s books yet. Well, keep looking. Kohnstamm claims he made up large parts of his books, so it’s likely there are quite a few inaccuracies to be found. Tellingly, the author never appears to consider that people are counting on the schedules and recommendations he’s supposed to provide.

Spending the night in a train station because your guidebook messed up the departure times is far from the end of the world. But it also shouldn’t be written off as simply “part of the experience,” especially if it could be easily avoided.

2. He regards the whole affair as a harmless college prank. In his interview with an Australian newspaper, Kohnstamm makes sure to bash LP, but he never apologizes to his readers. Worse, he seems to view his “questionable ethics” as being a real riot, merely fodder for his next book and nothing more.

1. He gives a bad name to all the other Lonely Planet writers out there. As Matthew Firestone, a Gadling contributor and LP writer, said in the comments of our earlier post, this writer’s behavior reflects very poorly on those guidebook writers who tirelessly pound the pavement to check train schedules, review restaurants, and sleep in seedy hostels. If Kohnstamm believes his actions only hurt himself, or his Lonely Planet publisher, he’s dead wrong. His unethical behavior will cause travelers to cast suspicious glances at other guidebook writers, almost all of whom work their asses off.

For more, check out Eva Holland’s article over on Brave New Traveler.