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Lara Dunston (Dubai, UAE)

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Syria and Lebanon (Lonely Planet)
Syria and Lebanon (Lonely Planet)
by Terry Carter
Edition: Paperback

20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Syria and Lebanon guide: some clarification, 25 Nov 2007
A post from the authors of the last edition of 'Syria and Lebanon' in response to the review above. We're currently completing the manuscript for the new edition, so the out-of-date content (well over 4-6 years old now!) you've reviewed is being updated (the reason I give our guide 4/5!)

We're love Syria, as much as we love Lebanon. We've travelled to both countries myriad times over a decade. However, we weren't commissioned to write Syria for the edition you reviewed. Our commission was to write Lebanon, so the views on Homs/Hama weren't ours, but those of author Andrew Humphreys. Lonely Planet briefs authors to make a connection to the place they're writing about, hence that tendency toward Lebanon you detect in Terry's bio.

Hama is beautiful - love the waterwheels, riverbank, splendid stone architecture, narrow lanes of its tiny 'old town', the sweets! - however, as a woman I was distinctly uncomfortable on the last visit in a way I've never been in Syria before and I'd advise women travelling there to be cautious. In Homs we found the people considerably warmer and friendlier, loved the renovated souqs and old buildings, the coffee shops, the vibrant youth culture, and I, personally, found it to be more female-friendly.

The content of guidebooks is always going to be subjective because they're an expression of the authors' experiences of destinations. As much as authors talk to locals, expats and travellers during research, and try to balance out any negative/positive experiences of their own with those of others, we can ultimately only write about things in the way we experience them. Travellers experiences of places are inevitably different and varied, so guidebooks will rarely please everyone. Lonely Planet requires its authors to be opinionated, authoritative and to "tell it like it is", because they believe these things make their guidebooks better and are what readers want.

Guidebooks written by authors who live in-country are going to be different to authors whose experience is based on repeat trips to the destination over many years (as ours and Andrew's is). Some guidebook publishers lean toward commissioning resident authors because they can provide a depth of experience, insider knowledge, and deep understanding of culture that a repeat visitor perhaps can't (and because it's cheaper - they don't have to include author airfares in their fee budgets!) - although even Lonely Planet commissions authors to write titles on destinations they've never been before. The reasons might be: they want some 'fresh eyes', they value the writer's ability, or simply because they couldn't find a good enough resident author available at the time they were commissioning. If a travel writer is good at what they do, then they should have solid research skills, and should be able to hit the ground running and very quickly learn everything they need to adequately update the guide. After all, this is what we do.

Totally agree with you the Syria and Lebanon guides should never have been combined and do warrant their own guides (for many reasons) and we strongly argued this - it's something that's embarrassed us and that we've had to explain to our Syrian and Lebanese friends many times on our myriad trips there over the years since the guide was published. There are obviously business imperatives - editors want to produce profitable titles - and those won out. We agree with you, it's a shame.

Lara Dunston (& Terry Carter)

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