Lonely Planet’s Renegade Writer a Fraud

Lonely Planet fraudster ”¦ er ”¦ writer Thomas Kohnstamm is trying hard to pooh pooh the controversy surrounding his revelations that he made up large portions of his guidebooks.

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Kohnstamm earlier revealed to an Australian newspaper that his guidebook to Colombia was not even based on an actual visit to the country — he was apparently holed up in considerably less exotic San Francisco penning the guide. The closest he got to Colombia was a girl he dated who worked at the consulate, and who was his source for all information. According to him, the pay was just not enough to actually finance a trip to the country.

Kohnstamm also admitted to doing things that are against Lonely Planet policies — accepting free travel, for instance — and basing his guidebooks on internet research and tourism brochures.

All this “soul searching” comes at an opportune time for Kohnstamm — he has a new book out called Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? and clearly believes there’s no such thing as bad publicity. His comments on his Lonely Planet guidebook stint have been picked by major news agencies, so even if his reputation as a reliable travel writer is in tatters, there’s still the revenue potential from a sizable book deal to be happy about.

If the excerpts from the book are anything to go by, readers may well be disappointed. His descriptions of a restaurant romp on a table with a Brazilian prostitute, after which he proceeds to note down his restaurant review — “table service is friendly” — are irritatingly boastful and shallow in a frat boy style, and hardly gripping.

  1. I doubt he is the only one. I have heard that story before, about Lonely Planet writers who depend on second-hand sources (such as other travelers), for their writing.

    No wonder LP guidebooks are inaccurate and out of date.

  2. It’s a good thing I have enough Colombian friends to take me to the country for me to not buy a book worth, I mean, “worth”, $25.

  3. Fabian: I completely agree. I commented the same thing on BNT yesterday – you know this isn’t an isolated incident.

    To be honest, the entire notion of print guidebooks is pretty much a “dead man walking”. They’re like CDs and DVDs. Digital distribution is the wave of the future.

    Anthony: Ha! If nothing else, it’d be fun to buy just to point out the apparently wild inaccuracies.

  4. I’m surprised that Kohnstamm hasn’t come to this site yet; over at BNT and Gadling (and just about every other site that ran a news piece on this) he’s crying foul over the coverage on the incident.

    Ironically, for someone who claims now not to plagiarize, he keeps using the phrase “the journalistic integrity that you espouse” over and over.

  5. Yeah, what the hell? This web travel rag is just as good as any! Especially for a shameless, plagiarizing, money grubbing, media whore.

    That’s it: I’m boycotting his (or whoever actually wrote it’s) book!

  6. I don’t question the authorship of his own book; I think in the movement to garner press for the book is where Kohnstamm tripped up. Gadling’s recent post on the story writes:

    “His situation now is a bit like that of the college guy on Spring Break who lies to his buddies, telling them that he cheated on his girlfriend with a gorgeous, blonde 19-year-old. When the news eventually makes it back to the girlfriend– as it always does– he’s in the unenviable position of having to explain that before he was lying, but now he’s telling the truth.”

    It’s a pretty apt description, especially when you take into account that he wasn’t responsible for the entire guidebook. I’ve long since given up on Lonely Planet after being burned multiple times by inaccurate listings, and I recently read Unlikely Destinations with a bittersweet tinge–the kind of tinge you get when you see your ex and think how you had some good times but ultimately he/she had too many problems for you to handle. The company had such a promising start and has since lost sight of the forest for the trees.

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