Lonely Planet's bad trip

THE Lonely Planet guidebook empire is reeling from claims by one of its authors that he plagiarised and made up large sections of his books and dealt drugs to make up for poor pay.

Thomas Kohnstamm also claims in a new book that he accepted free travel, in contravention of the company's policy.

His revelations have rocked the travel publisher, which sells more than six million guides a year.

Mr Kohnstamm, whose book is titled Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?, said yesterday that he had worked on more than a dozen books for Lonely Planet, including its titles on Brazil, Colombia, the Caribbean, Venezuela, Chile and South America.

In one case, he said he had not even visited the country he wrote about.

"They didn't pay me enough to go Colombia,'' he said.

"I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating - an intern in the Colombian Consulate.

"They don't pay enough for what they expect the authors to do.''

An email to management, posted on the company's authors' forum, describes Mr Kohnstamm's book as "a car crash waiting to happen''.

"Why did you (management) not understand that when you hire a constant stream of new, unvetted people, pay them poorly and set them loose, that someone, somehow was going to screw you?'' author Jeanne Oliver wrote.

Ms Oliver, an experienced travel writer having written for Lonely Planet on eastern Europe, France, Germany and Greece, admitted to sending the email, but did not wish to comment further.

Other writers believe some practices described in the book are widespread. Lonely Planet forbids their authors from accepting gifts or discounts.

Another email, sent in the name of Lonely Planet chief Janet Slater, states that Mr Kohnstamm's books were all being urgently reviewed.

The email said: "If we find that the content has been compromised, we'll take urgent steps to fix it. Once we've got things right for travellers as quickly as we can, we'll look at what we do and how we do it to ensure as best we can, that this type of thing never happens again.''

Lonely Planet publisher Piers Pickard told The Sunday Telegraph that the company's urgent review of Mr Kohnstamm's guidebooks had failed to find any inaccuracies in them.