With massive change unfolding around the world and in our own halls of government, there is plenty to feel uneasy about. And if a sense of security seems elusive at home, the idea of getting away might be even more unsettling.
But travel book publishers, who, like all of us, have grown accustomed to tumult as a part of the natural order, say that isn’t necessarily so. “The general desire to travel isn’t waning, it’s growing,” says Georgina Dee, publishing director at DK’s travel division. “What changes is where people are going.”
Interest in certain countries has dipped, says Pauline Frommer, copresident of FrommerMedia, which halted production on a new guide to Belgium after last year’s terrorist attack in Brussels. “Belgium has seen a huge drop in their visitation, and because their government is so divided, they may not be able to address terrorism issues,” she says. “But I don’t think there’s a diminished desire to travel [overall].”
Frommer says that she’s more optimistic that Paris, the site of a 2015 attack, will come back, and that, in general, the future of international travel is still bright: “We still get a question every week about Italy, and Scandinavia is particularly hot thanks to Frozen. You never know what will influence people.”
Leaving the country has never been so important, says veteran author Rick Steves, who has for decades beckoned first-time American travelers to Europe. (See our Q&A with Steves, p. 26.) In a heartfelt blog post, published December 19—the day a stolen truck careened into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 and injuring nearly 50—he wrote: “I believe we owe it to today’s victims to not be terrorized by this event—and to not let our fears get the best of us.... It is simply not rational for Americans to stop traveling to Europe because of safety fears.”
Even former president Barack Obama is advocating travel; this past fall, he published an essay on Lonely Planet’s editorial hub to commemorate his final foreign trip. “I have always believed that our engagements with other countries must not be limited to governments,” he wrote. “We also have to engage people around the world.” Obama, according to Lonely Planet, was the first sitting president to visit Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Laos, and Myanmar.
The balance of geopolitics aside, there are some practical reasons why Americans might be keen to hit the road. “Right now the dollar is so extraordinarily strong and international airfares are down,” Frommer says. “There’s never been a better time to be an American traveler.” She and other leaders in the travel publishing category shared their thoughts on where we’re headed.
Many publishers agree with Frommer’s assessment that when travelers shy away from one destination, they are much more likely to decide on another than they are to stay at home.
“We’ve seen sales to France dip in the last year, but you’ll always see something else pick up,” says Piers Pickard, managing director of publishing at Lonely Planet. And the hottest trends in international travel, many of which began a few years ago, show no signs of diminishing, he says.
Pickard ascribes the steady ascendance of Portugal to both its value and its variety. Lonely Planet will release the 10th edition of its Lonely Planet Portugal guide in March; in May it will publish the first edition of Discover Portugal, part of a more concise, more visually driven series that was launched in 2010 and redesigned last year.
Frommer is in the process of editing a new guide to the country, written by two journalists who live in Portugal. “I’m dying to go back there,” she says. “Things are really changing rapidly.”
Later this year, DK will publish its Top 10 Guide to the Azores, the archipelago of volcanic islands off the country’s western coast—many of which are largely undeveloped—which has recently become a popular destination for ecotourism. “It’s up-and-coming and it’s safe,” Dee says. “It also has direct flights to the U.S.”
Ginkgo Press in Madison, Wis. (distributed by Univ. of Wisconsin), which over the past two decades has published Eat Smart culinary guides to 13 countries, decided the time is right to add Portugal to its list. Eat Smart in Portugal by Ronnie Hess and Joan Peterson (May) will, like its predecessors, delve into food history and regional specialties, and help travelers navigate local menus and market offerings.
It’s hard to overstate American interest in this Nordic island nation, ranked the world’s most peaceful for several years running by the Institute for Economics and Peace. (The U.S. came in, by contrast, at 103—right below Uganda and Guinea, which are tied.) According to Vox, which crunched some numbers from the Icelandic Tourist Board, the historic number of U.S. tourists that touched down in Iceland last year outnumbered Iceland’s population of 332,000.
Sales of Lonely Planet’s Iceland titles have increased tremendously in the past 12 months, according to Darren O’Connell, the publisher’s product director for guidebooks and e-books. DK’s Pocket Rough Guide Reykjavík has been a top seller for that country, Dee says.
In May, Insight Guides will publish the eighth edition of Iceland. It will hit at a time when the imprint’s three-year-old business model, an online platform that enables travelers to book tours with local operators, is beginning to gain momentum, says René Frey, CEO of London’s APA publications, which bought Insight Guides from the Langenscheidt family in 2014. “We still feel that our heritage is very important,” he adds. “We were pioneers in very visual guides, and those books are still the best marketing tool that we have.”
Few countries seem as alluring as this island nation, long cloistered from American travelers, which welcomed its first commercial U.S. flight—from Fort Lauderdale—this past August.
“You know it’s on the cusp of some kind of change—either internal, because of [Fidel] Castro’s death [in November 2016], or external, because of this delicate relationship with the U.S.,” says Justin Cavanaugh, senior travel editor at National Geographic Books.
The publisher will release the fourth edition of its Cuba guide in February; the book will include detailed information for cruise passengers (in May 2016, the first American cruise vessel to reach Cuba in decades docked in Havana), as well as current events: photos of President Obama shaking hands with Raúl Castro, and mention of the free outdoor concert that the Rolling Stones played in Havana in March 2016.
DK, which has published Cuba guides for nearly 15 years, has developed fresh content for 2017. “We’re excited that many more of our American customers will get to see it,” Dee says. In mid-January, DK’s Eyewitness Books released an updated version of its Top 10 Cuba pocket guide; in August comes the extended version, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Cuba.
Havana (Bloomsbury, Mar.) is Mark Kurlansky’s cultural history of a city that he began visiting regularly in the 1980s, when he covered the Caribbean for the Chicago Tribune. Kurlansky’s several nonfiction titles include 2002’s Salt, which has sold 423,000 print copies, per Nielsen BookScan.
“It’s not a traditional travel book, but it’s the kind of thing that people traveling to Cuba will want as background,” says Nancy Miller, editorial director of Bloomsbury. “It’s a view into the culture that you wouldn’t have otherwise: he’s been back there every year, sometimes more than once a year, for 30 years. He’d interviewed [Fidel] Castro and wrote the book with his death in mind. And since Mark is a foodie, there are recipes throughout.”
Also in March, Rizzoli will release Old Cuba, a hardcover billed as an “insider’s view” of the country’s architecture, with 180 images that reflect its rich and varied cultural history. Photographer Julio Larramendi captured colonial-era sites, including mansions and churches that “remain as pristine and baroque” as they were centuries ago, says v-p and publisher Charles Miers.
Safety is one of the biggest appeals of Japan, says Melissa Kayser, a commissioning editor at the Australian publisher Hardie Grant, which published a Tokyo Precincts hardcover guide in October and has plans to release the smaller Kyoto Pocket Precincts paperback in July. (Chronicle distributes Hardie Grant in the U.S.)
“With all of the crazy places in the world right now, you can feel comfortable there,” Kayser says. “There are no issues with pickpocketing and some of the other things that people worry about.” Still, she says, its culture remains the biggest draw. “It’s probably the only place in the world where the culture blends both old and new quite seamlessly,” she says. “And they embrace technology in every respect. Kyoto is probably the only place in the world where you’ll see a geisha walking down the street holding a cell phone. ”
In February, Stichting Kunstboek (distributed by ACC) will publish Sights and Scenes in Japan, an introduction to the country written by Marc Popelier, a businessman who started the Destination Japan blog to share his discoveries during his frequent visits to the country.
Two months later, Kuperard, which recently shifted its distribution from Penguin Random House to IPG, will release an updated edition of the Japan installment of its Culture Smart series, designed to help travelers better navigate social and cultural norms.
Tuttle, founded in Tokyo and Vermont in 1948 with the goal of East-West cultural exchange, is adding two books to its extensive Japan travel list in June. Tokyo Geek’s Guide by Gianni Simone is a resource for exploring manga, anime, gaming, cosplay, and more. Japan Traveler’s Companion by Rob Goss guides readers through the country’s historical sights, cultural attractions, culinary traditions, and pop-culure phenomena.
Switzerland and the Alps
“There’s still a sense, as you travel through it, that although its culture is quintessentially European, Switzerland is a place apart,” says Cynthia Ochterbeck, editorial director of Michelin Travel Partner, which will publish the Michelin Green Guide Grand Tour of Switzerland in April. The Grand Tour—a 1,000-mile trip that includes five Alpine passages, 22 lakes, and 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites—was designed to highlight the country’s culture, she says. “[It] eschews the most direct route between two points in favor of local roads and byways. So the route leads you through villages, valleys, and mountain passes you might otherwise miss.”
Using similar logic, Stephen O’Shea spent two summers traveling pass to pass, rather than peak to peak. The result is The Alps (Norton, Feb.), which captures the human reality of a destination that is so popular “it’s almost pickled in its myths,” says Matt Weiland, v-p and senior editor. The book examines some of the most Alpine of conventions, from the practice of yodeling to the image of a St. Bernard with a barrel around its neck, then merges them with stories of contemporary Alpine residents, including watchmakers and salt miners.
While a strong dollar and relatively flat global airfares are providing some Americans with practical reasons to travel abroad, the low cost of gas and competitive domestic plane ticket prices inspire others to explore undiscovered corners right here at home.
“We have a really big and strong road trip list, and gas prices continuing to be low are good for that list,” says Donna Galassi, v-p and associate publisher at Avalon Travel, which publishes Moon Guidebooks. New spring titles include a guide to Seattle, a book detailing a Nashville to New Orleans road trip, and books on the Great Smoky Mountains and Rocky Mountain national parks.
Some of the interest coming out of last year’s 100th anniversary of the National Park Service still holds, says Galassi. “They’re doing such great work in getting a more diverse population to visit the park. That interest is going to continue in 2017.” Also on domestic travelers’ radar:
This year, Moon will release a first edition Alaska guide, focusing on the natural beauty of the United States’ so-called last frontier, which, like Hawaii, attracts visitors for its rare combination of domestic and exotic.
One of the state’s most popular destinations is the Inside Passage, visited by more than a million cruise passengers each year. The variety of the scenery there is the biggest draw, says Bjorn Dihle, a commercial fisher and tour guide, and author of Haunted Inside Passage, which Graphic Arts Books will publish in May. “It’s more compressed—you could be watching a brown bear, drinking wine, and seeing a glacier, all at the same time.” Weaving in ghost stories, shipwrecks, and other unsolved mysteries from the region, Passage gives those on cruises and more intrepid travelers alike a look at the darker side of a place known for its beauty.
All guides need regular updating and a fresh angle, and domestic travel books are going deep, focusing on a singular experience in an otherwise well-covered locale. That might mean that a book considers a place, or a group of places, through the lens of a historical moment.
That’s the case with Civil War Battlefields, which Rizzoli will publish in March. “It has a meditative, contemplative quality to it,” says Charles Miers, who compares it to a recent book the publisher did on the Pacific Coast Trail, and another, from a few years back, on the Appalachian Trail. “It’s a walk through hallowed ground.”
A deep dive might also mean charting a more whimsical course, as Joey Green does in Vacation on Location, Midwest (Chicago Review, May), which visits regional sites where popular movies were filmed. “There are quite a lot of books out there on New York and California, and if you’re in Florida, you’re going to the beaches,” says Jerome Pohlen, the book’s editor, who also writes the publisher’s Oddball series, a state-by-state celebration of offbeat stops. “But if you’re in Indiana, with all of the cornfields, you may be looking for something out of the ordinary.”
Vacation on Location includes tips for finding well-known props from classic films (think: the original Bluesmobile) or visiting the settings themselves, such as the Cleveland home from A Christmas Story and the Minneapolis landmarks seen in Purple Rain.
A lifetime’s worth of offbeat ideas in every part of the country can be found in 50 States, 5,000 Ideas: Where to Go, When to Go, What to See, What to Do, a photo-rich, aspirational title coming from National Geographic in February. The book is organized state by state; each chapter includes both classic must-dos as well as a series of sidebars on more experiential elements of each location.
A new book from Norton, scheduled for a February release, focuses on the American destinations that people don’t necessarily think of as American. Author Doug Mack got the idea for Not-Quite States of America while hunting for quarters to feed a washing machine. He realized that some of the images on the “tails” side of the coins don’t represent states, but territories such as Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“Territories don’t appear on U.S. maps—it’s kind of a surprise that there are four million Americans who live in these places,” Norton’s Matt Weiland says.
What began as an incidental curiosity led to a 30,000-mile quest to understand why the territories aren’t states—and a detailed account of Mack’s time in many of them. That led, naturally, to questions about belonging, and “getting really deep into arguments over American history and the development of the country and the nature and the rights,” Weiland says.
“One of the great things about this kind of travel writing is that it allows a writer to combine different modes—reporting and history, for example—to learn about the world.” And that, he says, “appeals to readers of different stripes.”
Sarah J. Robbins is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn.
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