Lonely Planet confirms the inclusion of several new hotels in its ninth edition

As Huaraz is such a small place, we quickly found out that Alex Egerton, the successor of Kevin Raub (responsible for the information on Huaraz in the previous edition of Lonely Planet), was in town. We were happy Alex took some time out of his busy schedule to give us a short interview. We asked him about his background and how long he had been working for LP; the countries he has visited; how he obtained the job and, of course, if he ever had been bribed. Lonely Planet is a known as the Holy Bible of Travelling and is a key item to purchase before heading off on an adventure.

Who are you and what can you tell us about your background?

A journalist by trade, I got into the field as a radio reporter at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation after which I travelled and worked in various parts of Asia, Africa and Europe before moving to Latin America in 2004, initially in Nicaragua and then in Colombia, which is the homeland of my wife.

While working as a journalist in Nicaragua, I contacted Lonely Planet to see if I could bring my local knowledge of the region to their guidebooks.

After a rather taxing application assignment that involved writing a mock guidebook section on a local destination, which was assessed by in-house staff and editors, I was bought on board as part of the team of authors, although I understand the application process is a bit different now.

I have worked on LP projects throughout Central and South America including books on Nicaragua, Peru and Colombia as well as regional guides.

When not working on guidebooks – all assignments are actually contract-based, so we don’t sit around the office waiting to be sent somewhere exotic – I write about the region for various publications. I am especially interested in the Andes and the Caribbean, which is why Colombia is a great base as it offers an abundance of unexplored swathes of both.

How long have you been in the Ancash area and what villages have you visited?

I spent almost four weeks in Ancash travelling the length and breadth of the region from Llamac in the South to Pomabamba in the North and everywhere in between. This involved a lot of long, rather uncomfortable stints on buses, but in this region the discomfort is compensated by phenomenal scenery around every corner.

While sometimes it is necessary to rent a vehicle or hire a private driver, I try to travel by bus wherever possible so I can inform readers of the logistics involved. I travel in the most uncomfortable buses, so I can compare them and tell readers which ones to avoid!
For the forthcoming Peru guide, I also covered the Cajamarca, Amazonas and San Martín departments as well as part of La Libertad.

Was it your first time in Huaraz?

Yes. Although I have travelled in Peru before, this was my first visit to the Ancash area.

Could you explain how the selection process works and how does one obtain a spot in the book?

There is no official application process or anything like that. We visit as many places as possible in each town to select the best possible options for travellers.

Therefore, for business owners, the best way of making sure they are included is to offer the best possible product in terms of both quality and value. It’s important to note that these books are used by a wide range of travellers from backpackers on a tight budget to professionals on a short break with plenty of cash to burn, so it’s not just about being the cheapest, but rather offering an exceptional experience to travellers within whatever budget range the business is positioned.

Obviously as well as our local contacts, we take into account readers’ suggestions and even business owners are free to write in and advise that they have opened a new business in a particular place. These suggestions are collated into a spreadsheet, which is given to authors before they head out onto the road to make sure they are aware of new places in the region.

Why is it important not to reveal your identity?

When we first approach a business we want to see how they treat customers, as this is an essential part of the travel experience. If we announce our mission in advance, some businesses may go the extra mile to make us feel comfortable, try to buy us drinks and generally offer full VIP treatment, which they don’t offer to normal customers.

We want to know how they react when the average client walks in; we want to see how they operate without them putting in special efforts because we are guidebook writers.

In restaurants, if the owners know you are reviewing the place, they might serve up bigger portions or offer free drinks. If we go in incognito, we know that the large portions are standard practice and the manager that offers a free welcome drink is offering good customer service rather than trying to give a favourable impression of the place to a writer.

As an experienced traveller, what is your opinion on the services offered in Huaraz compared to other cities you have visited?

Most travellers visit Huaraz as a base from which to explore the remarkable nature of the region and organize adventure activities, but this doesn’t mean that the city should be resigned to just being a logistical stop.

Logically as an established travellers’ hub, Huaraz offers a fairly decent range of accommodation options, especially at the lower end of the budget spectrum. On the restaurant front, the city holds its own with other similar destinations, particularly with the availability of tasty international cuisines.

One area where Huaraz seems to be a little of the pace is with transportation, but that is not uncommon in Northern Peru. It would be of great benefit to travellers if there was one central bus terminal from which all regional and long distance buses departed rather than travellers having to walk around the streets looking for the offices of individual companies, which is especially and issue for early and late departures.

If there was one central terminal, visitors could just head there and compare prices and itineraries among companies and choose the option that best suits their needs rather than having to trot all over town.

Another thing that is really noticeable here is the lack of respect that drivers have for those walking. Most motorists turning a corner would probably run you over if you step out to cross even with a green signal and a police official right there on the spot, there is absolutely no courtesy. This is something that needs to be addressed for the city to be more appealing to visitors.

After doing your research, and reading previous editions of LP, would you conclude that Huaraz is improving or not?

Having not researched the previous edition it’s hard to say exactly, but I feel in some areas things are definitely going in the right direction. There are now more appealing and comfortable accommodation options in the upper mid-range sector which was very much underrepresented in the town.

On the other hand there is still quite a lot of chaos involved in getting accurate information on mountain activities and buying a tour. There are agencies on every corner but very little regulation of the industry. For example, many trekkers complain that pack animals are treated very poorly while others complain that they were given misleading information before setting out on their trek.

The i-Perú office is helpful for things around town, but has very little in the way of accurate details on hikes and other outdoor activities. Travellers can get information, but it’s hardly an ideal situation where those selling the tours are the ones dishing out facts about activities.

Obviously, you cannot reveal to us who´s in or out, but could you share how many new places have gained a listing and maybe one business that has gained a spot in the new edition?

This is a hard one because until the book is edited, designed and printed there is always the potential for change; therefore, I never like to confirm to any business that they will be in a guide until the book is on the shelves.

Having said that, there are several new hotels that should be in the next edition especially in the mid-range area, there are also a couple of new restaurants and one local institution that is making a comeback after dropping out of the last edition. Stay tuned!

Have you ever been bribed by businesses in the area?

In Peru, I have not come across this – although in Colombia I was offered a decent amount of cold, hard cash by one businessman to include his hostels in the guide. Needless to say, I rejected the offer and none of the hostels in question have made the cut, not because of the shady owner, they are total crap. I actually said to the owner that if he had that kind of money to throw about, he should instead invest it in improving his shoddy places and see if he can attract more customers.

Do you have the best job in the world?

Yes and no. It’s great to be paid to wander around and to feel that, in whatever small way, we are able to promote a type of travel that benefits the community and other important stakeholders.

However, it’s not without its drawbacks. It’s nowhere near as romantic as it sounds: for every crystal clear glacier lake, there are endless bus schedules to obtain and mattresses and toilet seats to check under. Also it is very difficult to be on the road non-stop when jobs in thick and fast – hotels are fun when you choose to be there, but sometimes there is a longing for the comfortable sofa and a home cooked meal.

As an author, and with the rise of digital guidebooks and websites with reviews, how do you see the future of LP?

That’s one you’d have to ask management. I believe there is still a strong market for professional, critical content; it’s just a matter of how it is delivered.

Websites with reviews are a great resource, but there are several issues there too. There is so much content online, that it takes a great deal of effort to sort through it all and come up with viable options. Sometimes it’s nice to just open a book or a PDF or whatever and discover a couple of great places to stay or eat without the hassle.

Also there is the macro issue of where to go. This is something that online media have not really mastered yet. If a visitor wants assistance in planning their trip – which regions to visit, what mountains to climb – a guidebook is still an invaluable resource.

When is the newest version of Peru´s LP coming out (assuming there will also be a shoestring version of SA)?

The Peru book is due to be published in mid-2016, while the South America on a Shoestring is pencilled in for a 2017 release.

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