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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Frommer rescues his books

Arthur Frommer, a travel expert and publisher for many decades, has reacquired the portfolio of print guidebooks that bear his name. I am delighted.

Frommer has kept busy in recent years publishing a blog, assisted by his daughter Pauline. It's difficult for a travel writer to impress me, but there are three whom I trust and recommend without reservation: Samantha Brown, Joe Brancatelli, and Frommer. Sometime in the 1980s I found several errors in a Frommer guidebook, and I wrote an old-fashioned complaint letter to the publisher. Quickly I received an acknowledgment from Frommer himself, personally signed, with a commitment that the errors would be corrected in the next edition. He included a refund check even though I didn't ask for one. I followed up the following year, and Frommer did indeed correct the book. That's responsible journalism and good customer service too.

The Frommer guidebooks have a format and style that is familiar and helpful. Yes, for the frequent traveler there is some superfluous information, but it's easy to skip past it. The recommendations and perspectives are almost always on target. Not every excellent hotel, restaurant, or tourist sight will be listed; but the ones listed will almost always be excellent.

But more than that, I'm glad to see that someone still ascribes value to a print guidebook. I don't think a traveler can depend solely on user-generated content, although Wikipedia is 95% trustworthy for basic facts. Tripadvisor, Yelp, and the other sites that deliver user-generated content are often wrong, even in the aggregate, or out of date. There are too many comments and ratings from contributors who have axes to grind, "anger management" issues, inexperience or ignorance, grudges against competitors, etc for you to swallow the information uncritically. And as much as I like smartphones and tablets, I find a paper guidebook very handy. Driving through the Puerto Rico hills, for example, trying to find the Arecibo Observatory relying only on an iPhone will not work. Trust me on that. Besides, when traveling outside the United States, you may find that it's cost-prohibitive to use 2G, 3G, or 4G data on your smartphone.