Why must magazines make travel look a little too alluring?

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The Independent Travel
GLANCING through next month's edition of Conde Nast Traveller, the upmarket travel magazine, I realised that I was looking at a kind of travel porn.

I am not really talking about the fact that there is always a woman on the front cover, usually in a swimming costume (which after all makes a pleasing change from the grizzled old Tibetans or Uzbeks who usually seem to appear in travel mags), nor am I worried that the advertisements look like the editorials and vice versa.

What I am talking about is how falsely alluring travel and its associated products can look from the pages of a magazine.

The most stunning pictures in this month's edition of Conde Nast for example are those of America's canyonlands, where red and ginger wind- worn rocks appear through the photographer's lens like dimly-lit naked bodies or sexy swirling chocolate desserts.

The pictures are suggestive and fetishistic; we do not quite see what they are pictures of. And we know, deep down in our sad little hearts, that the real thing can't possibly be half as good as this.

On page 17 of next month's Conde Nast is a gorgeous aerial picture of an African village. From helicopter height, we look down on green grass, chocolate-brown water and perfect mushroom-shaped straw roofs. It is a classic image of the pre-modern world, without cars, without electricity pylons, without even cement.

And then we read the caption and realise this is a disaster zone. The gorgeous mosaic of browns and greens is what happened in northern Kenya recently when the whole country flooded, destroying villages and spreading deadly viruses. And we are looking at the pictures as evidence of the marvels of nature.

This fantastically attractive 170-page monthly magazine is, in a very very vague sense, part of the whole corpus of travel literature that gets churned out every day. It might be described as an extremely remote cousin of the Rough Guide series

But then the porn analogy kicks in again. The Rough Guides are books that nobody would want to read unless they were about to travel. Conde Nast is something that you would only read if you were interested in how other people went on holiday.

Because this is really classy travel. How about the French Riviera section starting on page 84 of this month's issue? Where do people stay? I mean the kind of people whose faces (and bodies) appear in advertisements for luxury hotels? The details of seven places to stay are provided, of which the very cheapest room of the rock-bottom hotel - in the lowest season - is pounds 136 a night.

But merely looking at the details of the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc in Antibes (where credit cards are not accepted and where first- time customers are asked to bring a letter of guarantee from their bank) is causing my eyes to dilate. As for the knowing comments about the Eden Roc wing favoured by Madonna and Clint Eastwood - these are the kind of things best read alone in a darkened room.

YESTERDAY was International Tourist Guide Day, the day on which tour guides the world over were supposed to feel good about themselves.

I hope they enjoyed it because it can't be much fun being a tour guide, all day long repeating the same anecdotes to resentful tourists none of whom can ever be bothered to listen.

Frankly speaking, the tour guide is the natural enemy of the tourist. Tourists don't like his accent; tourists don't want to be led around like sheep. Tourists want to be free.

But no, the guide will insist on dragging us back and reminding us of our childhood, speaking with incomprehensible intonation patterns that must have been acquired at a flight attendants' training college. It is like the punishment that we have to endure as the price for being allowed to look at their bloody palace (or chateau or museum).

Let us hope that 1998 will be the year in which guides and tourists free themselves of this endless punishment ritual.

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