Two lead­ing guide­book pub­lish­ers are cel­e­brat­ing mile­stone an­niver­saries. Barry Oliver looks at their un­likely rise to fame and for­tune

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

MARK Elling­ham ad­mits it was the ar­ro­gance of youth that led him into writ­ing travel guides. The 22-year-old had left an English univer­sity in 1981 and de­cided there wasn’t much chance of land­ing a worth­while job. He’d been to Greece a few times and didn’t think much of the guides on the mar­ket, so why not write his own?

With the help of £40 a week from his mum (‘‘so I didn’t starve’’), he did just that, and The Rough Guide to Greece was born.

In the quar­ter-cen­tury since, Rough Guide has be­come a house­hold name among trav­ellers and the brand has moved into ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing non-travel top­ics such as guides to the in­ter­net (it’s their best-sell­ing ti­tle, with three mil­lion sold), James Bond and The Lord of the Rings .

Travel, though, is the core, with more than 200 ti­tles ded­i­cated to the theme. This year, to cel­e­brate its an­niver­sary, the com­pany has re­leased a se­ries of 25 pocket-sized Ul­ti­mate Ex­pe­ri­ence guides, ‘‘ a col­lec­tion of ideas, en­thu­si­asms and in­spi­ra­tions, a se­lec­tion of the very best things to see or do, and not just be­fore you die’’, Elling­ham says.

He re­calls his de­light at the suc­cess of the first book; he re­port­edly said he’d hit on some­thing that ‘‘ was a wheeze to avoid­ing adult­hood’’. It was Mani, ‘‘ a rocky, trail­ing ten­ta­cle of the Pelo­pon­nese’’, which first caught his imag­i­na­tion in Greece. ‘‘ I had been read­ing Pa­trick Leigh Fer­mor’s clas­sic book on the re­gion, where the vil­lagers talked about pis­tol-packed vendet­tas as if they had hap­pened the pre­vi­ous week­end. And back in 1981 it didn’t seem so dif­fer­ent 25 years on.’’

He wrote to a dozen pub­lish­ers say­ing he wanted to write a stu­dents’ bud­get travel guide; only one, Rout­ledge, showed any en­thu­si­asm. But it wouldn’t pay an ad­vance un­til the writ­ing was un­der way (which is where mum came to the res­cue).

He is scathing about the guide­books that were avail­able at that time. ‘‘ They seemed to de­scribe a par­al­lel uni­verse where lo­cal peo­ple had walk-on parts as wait­ers and folk dancers,’’ he is re­ported as say­ing.

The latest Rough Guide to Greece — the 11th edi­tion with colour pho­to­graphs and rip­proof maps — is a far cry from the orig­i­nal, which Elling­ham has said was based on notes writ­ten on scraps of pa­per, tourist brochures and nap­kins.

Own­er­ship of the com­pany has changed a few times.

The founders bought the Rough Guide se­ries from Rout­ledge in 1987; Pen­guin ac­quired a 50 per cent stake in 1996 and bought it out­right in 2002.

Pub­lisher Martin Dun­ford, who met Elling­ham in Greece in 1981, says the writ­ers work hard on re­search and at­ten­tion to de­tail.

‘‘ We also re­alise that travel should be fun and that is re­flected in both the style of the books and our rec­om­men­da­tions,’’ Dun­ford says. His first travel ex­pe­ri­ence for Rough Guide was liv­ing in a tent in Am­s­ter­dam for three months, but he’s not com­plain­ing.

‘‘ I find that if you travel with an open mind, then your ex­pe­ri­ences are usu­ally pos­i­tive ones,’’ he says.

So what do the next 25 years hold? No one’s pre­dict­ing, but Elling­ham and Dun­ford are adamant about one thing: they say there will never be a Rough Guide to golf. ROUGH Guides’ 25-year mile­stone is dwarfed by US-based From­mers, which this year clocks up 50 years of pub­lish­ing.

Travel guides and wars aren’t usu­ally happy com­pan­ions, but that’s how Arthur From­mer got into the busi­ness. His first un­likely steps came when he self-pub­lished The GI’s Guide to Europe , based on his trav­els af­ter be­ing posted to Ger­many dur­ing the Korean War. It was an in­stant suc­cess with fel­low sol­diers, ner­vous about travel af­ter World War II. Back in civvy street, From­mer thought the idea might work on the Amer­i­can pub­lic and con­verted his book into Europe on $5 a Day, again self-pub­lished.

‘‘ It be­came an overnight best­seller and changed his life,’’ says daugh­ter Pauline. ‘‘ His guide showed peo­ple they re­ally could [travel in Europe].’’

Her fa­ther’s 1957 dol­lar guide to Europe in­flated to $95 a day be­fore it was de­cided to start phas­ing phas­ing out the con­cept. ‘‘ It was get­ting a lit­tle ridicu­lous,’’ Pauline tells me from her home in New Jer­sey. The bud­get theme, though, is still in the fam­ily, with Pauline writ­ing a ‘‘ spend less, see more’’ se­ries for From­mers, now owned by pub­lisher John Wi­ley.

She says her fa­ther re­mains a firm be­liever in bud­get travel.

‘‘ When you travel less ex­pen­sively, you are forced to travel more au­then­ti­cally,’’ she says. ‘‘ You eat where the lo­cals eat, stay in the lo­cal guest­houses. That’s when the great travel ex­pe­ri­ences are cre­ated.’’

From­mer, 77, is still ac­tive, re­tain­ing a con- sul­ta­tive role with the com­pany, writ­ing an in­ter­net blog and, with his daugh­ter, host­ing a weekly two-hour ra­dio pro­gram on travel.

Pauline says the guides re­main true to From­mer’s orig­i­nal idea of re­flect­ing the joy of travel. ‘‘ Amer­i­cans have very lim­ited va­ca­tions so a big com­po­nent of the books is help­ing peo­ple make the most of their time.’’

There are more than 300 From­mer’s guides, with the list grow­ing each year. Egypt is the latest ad­di­tion, along with parts of east­ern Europe. To mark the an­niver­sary, Wi­ley reprinted the orig­i­nal Europe on $5 a Day: ‘‘ It was very spe­cial for my fa­ther to have a brand-new copy of that.’’

Pauline started trav­el­ling with her fa­ther (up­dat­ing his Europe guides) at the age of four months and has never stopped. She nom­i­nates In­dia as one of her favourite coun­tries. ‘‘ I love a chal­lenge.’’


Cour­tesy of Pen­guin, we have three sets of 25 pocket-sized Ul­ti­mate Ex­pe­ri­ence guides to give away. Write your name and ad­dress on the back of an en­ve­lope and tell us in 25 words or less why you’d like to win. Send to: Ul­ti­mate Give­away, PO Box 215, East­ern Sub­urbs MC, NSW 2004.

We wish: The orig­i­nal Europe on $5 a Day

En­thu­si­asm and in­spi­ra­tion: Rough Guide founder Mark Elling­ham, left, and pub­lisher Martin Dun­ford

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