It’s an ongoing conundrum for guidebook publishers: how to encourage tourism without engendering overtourism, a term that’s become increasingly prevalent in the travel industry. With major European cities inundated by visitors, signs of a backlash have prompted local governments and travel organizations to collaborate on solutions that would ease the crush without stymieing an industry that pumps millions of dollars into regional economies. “We are looking at how to facilitate this dialogue between government and industry and then also providing a voice to support solutions,” the CEO and president of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, Terry Dale, told trade publication Travel Weekly in a January article titled “2019 Opens with Strict Measures Combating Overtourism.”
Guidebook publishers are playing a role, by encouraging responsible travel that focuses on experiencing city life like a local, which often means venturing outside the touristy center. Take Rome, for instance. Much of the city “has no tourism at all and prices that are about half the price of what you find at Piazza Navona,” Rick Steves says, referencing a square that’s popular with visitors. “You can see all the clichés—and that’s okay—or you can make friends and have a transformational experience.” Those experiences are available in even the most popular destinations, he adds. “You can go to those touristy cities and you can do them differently.”
The notion of experiencing destinations in new ways drives several initiatives being put forth by travel publishers. Whether they’re enticing tourists to venture beyond a city’s well-trod attractions or introducing a standalone guide to a region that was previously dispensed with in a single chapter of a longer book, travel publishers are responding to the challenges presented by modern tourism.
In May, Moon is launching the Moon City & Beyond series, which acknowledges overtourism by steering travelers toward less-visited neighborhoods and day-trip destinations. Grace Fujimoto, Moon’s v-p of acquisitions, says the issues that Barcelona in particular has faced—slashed tour bus tires and antitourism graffiti there have garnered international headlines—directly influenced the philosophy behind the series.
Moon Milan & Beyond by Lindsey Davidson, for instance, not only mentions Lake Como, where George Clooney famously has a home, but also covers Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore, which may receive less media attention but still hold plenty of appeal. In Moon Florence & Beyond, Alexei J. Cohen recommends various strategies for avoiding the city’s infamous crowds: lingering over lunch the way Florentines do, or heading to nearby Pistoia, where an 11th-century palace dominates the main square.
“These books are different in terms of the pace we’re encouraging,” Fujimoto says. “We’re showing how to slow things down.” The series adds two titles in July, covering Venice and Copenhagen.
Even guidebooks that don’t specifically grapple with issues of overtourism are adopting many of the same tenets as they reach out to younger travelers, who tend to be more willing to explore emerging neighborhoods in search of a city’s creative pulse. Fodor’s is launching the Inside city guide series, a spiritual successor to 2015’s Fodor’s Brooklyn, says editorial director Douglas Stallings. The typical Inside guide will zero in on a city that hasn’t yet reached peak tourist attention—Inside Lisbon, Inside Nashville, and Inside Berlin pub in June—and appeal to a “different kind of traveler, who’s looking for more than just tourist sites,” he notes. (For more about Inside guides, see “Drawn from Experience.”)
May’s Inside Paris differs in that it’s a mature destination, Stallings says, but here too, the book glances at the city’s iconic monuments but focuses on neighborhoods off the typical tourist route. To see the most interesting street art, for instance, the guide directs travelers to the Oberkampf and Canal St.-Martin neighborhoods. “We acknowledge that people still want some guidance, so we look at 10–15 hotels that we really like,” he adds. “But the focus in these books is not where to stay but how to enjoy a place.”
Hardie Grant has a few new offerings in this vein. It launched its Curious Travel Guides, which delve into art, culture, cuisine, and coffee, with 2018’s Sundays in Paris by Yasmin Zeinab. In March the series turns to the Tuscan capital with Lost in Florence by Nardia Plumridge, who, like Zeinab, is a blogger with a follower count in the several tens of thousands. “You don’t really need a book to tell you the obvious tourist stuff,” says publisher Melissa Kayser. “People are still looking for unique or hidden experiences.”
Australian travel writer Ben Groundwater seeks out the atypical in 10 international cities—including Esfahan, Iran, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam—in Go Your Own Way (Hardie Grant, Apr.), a guide geared toward solo travelers.
Also from Hardie Grant, the new Half-Full Adventure Maps (Feb.) target a different niche group, Kayser says: college students. Launching with London, Melbourne, New York, San Francisco, and Tokyo, the fold-out maps depict illustrated, walkable itineraries and include call-outs to supplemental online content, including a local music playlist. Blank spaces allow users to record their experiences—hence the “half-full” map.
Countryman Press, with its new Weekender line, hopes to appeal “to the young denizens of particular big cities,” says senior editor Róisín Cameron. The series kicks off in June with Beachy Weekend Getaways from New York City by Teddy Minford. A sample three-day itinerary imagines a traveler on the four o’clock train out of town and schedules a weekend full of locally sourced seafood and plenty of cocktails, helpfully suggesting where to get the best “hangover-curing greasy breakfast” on Sunday morning. In Easy Weekend Getaways from Seattle, also out in June, Anna Katz offers two-day sample itineraries for both adrenalin and bliss seekers, and assumes that both will want to find the nearest winery by the end of the day.
The World on a Platter
Travelers’ hunger for authentic experiences is also literal, giving rise to culinary-focused tourism that privileges what to eat over what to see. It’s popular enough that publishers are devoting entire series to the phenomenon.
“Food is never just about food—it’s access to an experience,” begins Bloomsbury’s Eat Like a Local New York, part of a series that debuts in March with guides to London, Paris, and Tokyo, in addition to New York. Each guide lists more than 100 restaurants, cafés, bars, and markets recommended by a cast of locals. A short essay introduces each section, imparting visiting epicures with the sorts of tips that come from years of gastronomic trial and error. “An appropriately crackly-meets-squishy bagel could never be mistaken for bread,” as the New York locals boast in a section on the ubiquitous breakfast carb.
The 12 Dishes guides from niche publisher Red Pork Press (dist. by IPG), which arrive in North American bookstores for the first time this spring, aim to demystify regional specialties for new visitors and nudge travelers to the side streets and alleyways where locals congregate, and where menus aren’t necessarily written in English. “Travel has become so much more homogenous, and food is one way to tap into what’s authentic,” says Leanne Kitchen, who coauthored the series with Antony Suvalko. “You will have much more memorable travels if you put yourself out of your comfort zone. We’re telling you, ‘Here’s where to go and how to do it.’ ”
Penang in 12 Dishes (Mar.) leads gastronomes through the city’s melting-pot of Indian, Malaysian, and Hokkien Chinese flavors, and offers advice on how to pick out a durian, which beach bars to visit, and more. Ho Chi Minh City in 12 Dishes (Mar.) serves up showcase bites and makes a detour through the city’s rich coffee culture. Guides to Shanghai and Singapore will be released in June.
At Countryman Press, L.A. by Mouth (Mar.) by comedian and food and travel writer Mike Postalakis is the second entry (after 2018’s Buffalo Eats by Arthur Bovino) in the Travel to Eat series. Postalakis angles his coverage toward his particular interests—standout tacos, hangover-helper brunches, and the best burgers.
In May, having already poured beer and coffee, Lonely Planet Food adds to its Global Tour line with a close-up on spirits. Global Distilleries Tour offers readers the choicest tipples in more than 30 countries, including singani, made in Bolivia from white Muscat of Alexandria grapes, and rakija, or Balkan fruit brandy.
Amid the books that zero in on a single city or interest, guidebooks that offer a broader scope remain popular. Moon is combining two areas of travel that it previously treated separately with the Drive & Hike line, launching in May. Moon Drive & Hike Appalachian Trail itineraries supplement road-trip info with maps for day hikes of six miles or less. The guide also offers coverage of breweries, barbecue, and more in towns along the way. “People are more interested in outdoor travel plans,” Fujimoto says. “This makes it more accessible.” Additional Drive & Hike guides will include one for the Pacific Crest Trail.
In April, Firefly Books is adding more Canadian provinces to its Nature Hot Spots series with 110 Nature Hot Spots in Manitoba and Saskatchewan by Jenn Smith Nelson and Doug O’Neill, and the series is venturing to the U.S. for the first time with 150 Nature Hot Spots in California. The state’s topographical diversity, coupled with a population greater than that of Canada, made it a natural choice for the line’s debut in the U.S., says editorial director Steve Cameron.
Insight Guides responds to calls for more sustainable travel with a second edition of Insight Guides Great Railways (Apr.), which had gone out of print. The ubiquity of inexpensive, short-haul flights has made Europe smaller than ever, but it has also made many Europeans more aware of their growing carbon footprint, says Nick Inman, one of the contributing authors to Insight Guides Great Railways. “There’s far more consciousness about climate change,” he notes. “People are starting to rediscover trains and realizing Europe has a brilliant network.”
The book’s rail itineraries connect points throughout Europe and could be used, for example, to transport a traveler from London to Romania, a country that is also getting a major guidebook update. An uptick in interest in Eastern Europe since Insight Guides Romania pubbed in 2007 indicated it was time for a refresh, travel editor Tom Fleming says.
Insight Guides isn’t the only publisher casting an eye toward Europe’s geographical margins. Though Rick Steves Italy has been in publication for more than 20 years, its coverage never included Sicily. That changes in April when Avalon publishes the first edition of Rick Steves Sicily, a destination the eponymous author says surprises and delights first-time visitors. “Sicily doesn’t hit you on the head like the Leaning Tower of Pisa or Big Ben,” Steves says. Instead, it offers some of the best examples of Greek architecture that aren’t already overrun with tourists. “I was blown away by the ancient sites.”
What truly draws Steves to Sicily, he says, are the people. Tourists are not only welcome in Sicily, which has lagged far behind the mainland in receiving visitors, but, he adds, “they’re invited to the party.”
Because Sicily sees fewer tourists, Steves says, it offers a traveler the opportunity to become “a cultural chameleon.” Those looking for that sort of local immersion will find guidance in Steves’s new guidebook and in many others this season.
Jasmina Kelemen is a writer who divides her time between Houston and Caracas and has reported from Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas.
This article has been updated with new bibliographic information.
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