Lonely Planet said Monday it stands by the accuracy of its travel guides following news reports that one of its authors claimed he plagiarized and invented sections of the books.
Australia’s Herald Sun and Sunday Telegraph newspapers reported that author Thomas Kohnstamm claimed he made up parts of the books he wrote, lifted information from other publications and accepted gifts in contravention of Lonely Planet’s policies.
But Kohnstamm later told The Associated Press that his remarks to the Australian newspapers were “taken out of context.”
“I did not make up sections. I did not plagiarize,” said Kohnstamm, who lives in Seattle.
Lonely Planet is reviewing the books that Kohnstamm contributed to but has so far found nothing inaccurate, said publisher Piers Pickard. He said Lonely Planet’s reputation was built on the integrity of its books and any inaccuracies would be quickly fixed.
Kohnstamm told the AP that while he had accepted perks such as discounted hotel rooms and free meals, he “never traded positive editorial coverage for any sort of a freebie.”
The newspapers also reported that Kohnstamm said he did not visit one of the countries he wrote about.
“They didn’t pay me enough to go to Colombia,” Kohnstamm was quoted as saying. “I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating who was an intern in the Colombian consulate.”
Pickard called that claim “disingenuous” because he was hired to write about the country’s history, not to travel there to review accommodation and restaurants. That work was done by two other authors.
“Thomas’ claims are not an accurate reflection of how our authors work,” Pickard told the AP.
On Sunday night, Kohnstamm agreed. “It was expected I would never go to Colombia” for the purposes of the guide book, he said.
His point, he said, was that to adequately cover an entire country, “it is necessary to piece together second hand information about things you are not able to see yourself.”
He added that few travel writers are able to visit all of the places they are expected to write about.
“I found out very quickly I was not able to go to all the places I needed to go to; I was not able to make the money stretch out to the end,” he said. “I don’t know what percentage of writers go to every place, but I don’t think most people do.”
The writer is due to visit Australia soon to promote his new book “Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?” about his experiences in the guidebook business. His Web site says he holds a masters degree in Latin American studies and has written more than a dozen books for Lonely Planet and contributed to other travel sections.
Lonely Planet publishes more than 500 titles, mostly travel guides. In 2007, the BBC Worldwide bought a 75 percent share in the company.