After just coming back from my trip to Ireland (pre-St. Patrick's Day, thanks to some strategic blackout dates from Aer Lingus) I was interested to find out that the travel book market tanked last year. This is interesting to me because I had always thought of travel writing as having an inverse relationship to actual travel, but as we've seen from recent reporting, that's not the case.
Of course, it's silly of me to think about travel writing this way because a great deal of travel writing is of the "how to" variety: Where should I go? What should I see? Where, most importantly, should I eat? But all too often these types of travel writing aren't particularly interesting to me. Instead I tend to be more interested in the more long-form, narrative kinds of travel writing. These are the kinds, I would think, that would become more popular as the ability to travel cheaply diminishes.
Still, airlines and hotels are offering deep discounts and "recession specials" to encourage people to travel, so perhaps people are going to continue to travel without buying the useless books that only point you to one helpful thing. I'd think that the real damage to travel books isn't the loss of travel -- it's more that more interesting and more useful information can be found online or through friends than through an inane travel book that tries to cater to everyone. After all, there are different kinds of travelers that are interested in doing different kinds of things. Catering to all of them is nearly impossible. Instead, we can rely on local coverage and the blogs of those who have happened on a cool place while they were there. The internet. It's changing everything.