After canceling or delaying guidebooks to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, three of the nation's largest travel houses are instead using the Web to deliver the latest info on the city, hoping to keep their brands fresh in would-be tourists' minds. At Frommer's, online dispatches from New Orleans native and guidebook writer Mary Herczog have been part of a content package about the city's recovery. While Herczog's first entry reads more like personal memoir than travel guide, the pieces will, according to Frommer's editorial director Kelly Regan, include a mix of practical information and personal experience. "She's writing from two perspectives," Regan said. "The first is from someone who spent a week and a half cleaning debris out of her house and the other is from a travel writer's perspective."
Frommer's, which pulled its 2006 New Orleans guide (it was scheduled to hit stands in October 2005), has also seen a dip in Web traffic for its New Orleans— related content. Robert Bosch, associate director of Frommers.com, said that post-Katrina, the New Orleans pages have drawn "about one-third of [their] normal traffic." He noted that prior to Katrina, the city was among the top 20 destinations of more than 3,500 on the site. Now, without a set date for the print guide (the book will be ready when Herczog says so), the publisher has been advertising its New Orleans content in its weekly e-mail newsletter, which goes to 180,000 subscribers.
Brice Gosnell, regional publisher for the Americas at Lonely Planet, said his company is also struggling to get out new and accurate information. After canceling its print New Orleans guide update, the company plans to post an update online; Gosnell expects it to go live before December 31—essential, he said, since Mardi Gras is February 28.
Like Frommer's, Lonely Planet is relying on a New Orleans resident for much of its fresh content. Thus far the company has held a podcast with its reporter on the Gulf Coast and Gosnell said "negotiations to do something else" are underway.
At Fodor's—which also canceled its scheduled New Orleans guide and is planning one for fall '06 instead—the first priority was to get someone to the city as quickly as possible. With that in mind, publisher Tim Jarrell and New Orleans book editor William Travis first reported from the region on October 17 for what became an online piece about the state of the city. Fodors.com is also featuring a series of first-person accounts from New Orleans locals—ranging from hoteliers to chefs—about their experiences literally weathering the storm. Jarrell said the new content is part of the company's effort to "chronicle the rebirth" of the city.