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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Offbeat Guides part 1: my findings

As the new travel product Offbeat Guides intrigued me and I'd been invited to try their beta, I decided to test them out with Dubai, a place few people know better than Terry and I. My shorthand notes based on the exercise:
* After signing in, selecting destination & inputting travel details, site promises I'll "build my own personalized travel guide". Seconds later my 'guide' appears:
* Intro - very general, not written by someone who knows city well OR visited in recent years; misleading ("It is essentially a desert city"), out-dated ("A relatively new tourist destination, Dubai has gained in popularity in recent years."; probably written 6 years ago); & spookily familiar: "It is a city of superlatives: for the fastest, biggest, tallest, largest and highest, Dubai is the destination." Googled that phrase & discovered thousands of sites with exact same content! Probably one of our old Lonely Planet Dubai books there somewhere too!
* False travel planning advice, eg.
"While Israeli passport holders are not welcome, having Israeli stamps in your passport is not a problem." Not true! Officially it is a problem. This could get travellers turned away at airport.
* Lots of incorrect info & evidence author hasn't visited places. Examples:

"Express By Holiday Inn Dubai-Internet City
... this modern hotel is downright luxurious for a Holiday Inn Express..." Confirms author hadn't been here. We've stayed here. It's comfy for budget hotel, doesn't come close to luxury.
"The Terrace Bar
, Park Hyatt... a chilled out bar touching the Dubai Creek... Plays light music." No idea what 'light music' is. Obvious author hadn't been when DJ's spin weekend afternoons.
"Cafe Chic
... ran by Michelin star chef Michel Rostang." Mon Dieu! It's been many years since Monsieur Rostang was around... last time we ate here Chef Pierrick Cizeron was still at helm (has been for years) & Michelin 2-starred chef-patron Philippe Gauvreau was still overseeing Cafe & visiting frequently from Lyon.
"Basta Art Cafe... sandwiches-and-salads menu is aimed squarely at tourists." Not true! Basta was very much locals-only cafe til few years ago, until writers like us & Time Out mag team encouraged tourists to go here. Customers still mainly locals/expats. Menu hasn't lost focus - we eat sandwiches & salads in Dubai too. Um, shwarma (see below) is actually an Arabic 'sandwich'.
"Shawarma is the most available (and cheap!) food in Dubai. It is meat that has been cooked on a skewer and then cut into thin strips and placed into a pita bread with vegetables and dressing." Um, no it isn't.
"Ravi Restaurant... excellent Pakistani food that is incredibly cheap. This is a must see for anyone with a spicy tooth." It's cheap, it's Pakistani, it's not pretty to look at, it's far from excellent. It's just cheap grub for those looking for a bargain meal. Nothing more. Spicy tooth, hey?

I could go on but I won't. I skimmed the rest, but generally: writing was weak & badly structured, choices were usual suspects, and it was clear writer hadn't been to most places.
While the site enabled me to incorporate my own notes, why would I want to add them to the trash that was on the page? And why I would want to pay to then have this printed (and bound?) was unclear...


Jessie V said...

thanks, lara- this just makes me mad that they are passing themselves off as guidebooks instead of misleading books. thanks for the heads-up.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Jessie - I couldn't agree with you more. It does feel a bit like a scam, doesn't it?

Unknown said...

Lara, thanks for your comments on the Offbeat Guide for Dubai. We're sourcing that information from Wikitravel and Wikipedia, and include event information from a number of partner sites, like eventful, meetup, and upcoming.

We're also still very much in beta, as we launched to the public in November, 2008, and and we're constantly striving to make the guides more accurate and timely.

Thanks again for your constructive feedback, and for giving the service a try.

And we have a 100% money-back guarantee, no questions asked. I'm happy to refund you (or any customer) for any guide that is unsatisfactory, for any reason whatsoever.

Thanks again for your thorough review!


Lara Dunston said...

Hi Dave

Yes, I know - and a lot of my readers know - you're sourcing the content from the Wiki sites. This is one of the biggest problems people have with what you're doing.

Do take a look at some of the insightful comments some of my readers are making at the end of these posts.

As one reader, Caitlin, a UK travel journalist points out: one of the reasons Wiki is so popular is because it's a non-profit, so for you to then charge people for that content is disturbing. Aside from the fact that many of us are already astonished that you're charging to print what is already free information.