Travel Blissful recently got in touch with David Stanley, the author of Moon Handbooks South Pacific, Moon Fiji, and Moon Tahiti, published by Avalon Travel Publishing of Berkeley, California. Today, David shares his experiences on guidebooks, travels, the future of tourism in the South Pacific, and tips for aspiring guidebook writers.
Erica Johansson: Your guidebooks about the South Pacific have served travelers since 1979. How often are you updating the Moon Handbooks? And when is it time for the next edition?
David Stanley: Right from the start we’ve brought out new editions of our guides every three years. And since the current editions of both Moon Fiji and Moon Tahiti were published in late 2007, new editions aren’t due until late 2010. This does vary occasionally. The first edition of Moon Fiji came out in 1985, but two military coups in 1987 delayed the second edition until 1990. The sixth edition went to the printers just as a third military coup was unfolding in Fiji in May 2000. Thus the seventh edition came out a year late in 2004. The current eighth edition was published in September 2007, well after the December 2006 coup. The latest Fiji coup had little affect on tourism so there was no reason to delay the new edition.
Competition from the internet has had a bigger impact on guidebooks than politics. Last year the publisher and I agreed that Moon Handbooks South Pacific would be allowed to go out of print when the current eighth
edition sells out. The cost of updating the book has increased as sales have declined, and it became simply uneconomic to produce a new edition. The entire book is now freely available online at http://books.google.com/books?id=EDGapfBX-CAC&printsec=frontcover which is great for travelers, but it will never be updated again.
Moon Handbooks South Pacific covers 15 countries and territories, each with a character of its own. There are good things about all of them. Those interested in meeting the people and having a wide selection of travel options at a reasonable price should chose Fiji. Nature lovers might pick Samoa where small family-operated beach resorts allow travelers to experience Samoa’s lush environment while learning about the country’s rich Polynesian culture.
The Cook Islands is perfect for anyone looking for a traditional beach holiday amid good facilities. French Polynesia has some of the most striking scenery in the region, and the happy mix of French style and Polynesian charm makes the islands a delight to visit.
Those into archeology and history should consider Easter Island and Tonga. The true adventurer will encounter outer islands which never see another tourist in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.
Any destination (or island) you don’t like? If so, why?
Frankly, I’m not enamored with New Caledonia. It’s very expensive and doesn’t have the flair of French Polynesia. Immigration from France has introduced Parisian snobbery to the capital Noumea, and English-speaking tourists are sometimes cheated by French business people. For example, the 1,000 and 10,000 Pacific franc notes are confusingly similar and I’ve had people switch them on me more than once. New Caledonia is also the only South Pacific destination where I’ve experienced credit card fraud. On the
plus side, hitching around New Caledonia is a breeze and you can camp free in many places.
By “between the islands” you mean islands within a single country, correct? About the only way to get from country to country is by scheduled flight. Within the countries, however, there are often local cargo boats that accept passengers. Government-subsidized supply boats sail from Tahiti to all parts of French Polynesia and deck space is quite cheap.
Highspeed catamarans operate between Tahiti and Moorea every couple of hours, and Fiji also has fast cats from Nadi to the Mamanuca Islands, the Yasawa Islands, and Vanua Levu. The two main islands of Samoa are connected by regular car ferries. Ferry travel is also possible in New Caledonia and Vanuatu but Solomon Islands is the real adventure hotspot for anyone looking for copra boats to forgotten islands over the horizon.
Last year I read Theroux’s “The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific”, about his travels from the Solomons to Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti and the Marquesas, and couldn’t help but fall in love with the book. Which is your favorite travelogue on the South Pacific?
I also enjoyed Theroux’s book. More recently, J Maarten Troost has written a pair of travel books about his experiences in Kiribati, Vanuatu, and Fiji. I like Troost’s “The Sex Lives of Cannibals” about his experiences on Tarawa more than the sequel “Getting Stoned with Savages”.
How do you view the future of the tourism in the Pacific?
Tourism will become more elitist as fuel prices push airfares up. By elitist I mean that in place of the packaged masses currently delivered to the South Pacific islands on Sir Richard Branson’s cheap flights there will be a much smaller number of upscale tourists rich enough to pay whatever is asked. Another select group will have the time to travel more slowly, thereby greatly lowering their daily costs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as today’s golden hordes of holidaymakers burn oceans of fossil fuels on their quickie trips from Auckland and Sydney.
What are your tips for someone who’d like to author a Moon Handbooks guide?
Go into guidebook writing for the love of it and not for the money. The time when you could get rich writing for Lonely Planet is over and you can only expect to cover your bare expenses these days. It can be an interesting experience researching a guide, but have another source of income in reserve. Moon Handbooks is one of the only large publishers which still allows its authors to retain their copyrights and pays royalties, however the income is quite low. Lonely Planet updaters are now paid flat fees and must sign away all rights in their first contract. Lonely Planet may look good on a resume but there’s no future in writing for them.
Any last words?
As Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet, once wrote, the hardest thing about travel is deciding to go. After that, it’s easy.
I’ve visited 196 countries and territories over the past 40 years and try to get to a few more every year. I visited Belarus in August and should be on my way to Turks and Caicos tomorrow but I’ve had to postpone my trip until December due to Hurricane Ike. There’s nothing like going to a new place and experiencing another way of life. It’s simply tops.