Hook, line - and rising fast

Hook, line - and rising fast

Meet the creator of Travelfish.org, one of the most refreshing and innovative guides to travelling Southeast Asia to emerge since the online revolution

Tee travelfish take on tourism in cambodia

Angkor is a disaster-in-waiting. Steps need to be taken to get development under control and better manage visitors. With temples reportedly sinking into their foundations due to drained underground aquifers, perhaps it will take a Bayon headpiece collapsing onto a government official to see any action. Likewise the loss of historic buildings in Phnom Penh is tragic. Improving roads and infrastructure, especially the buses, are making it easier to travel. While the lack of a reliable and safe domestic carrier is hampering
development in Sen Monorom and Ban Lung, seeing the debacle in Siem Reap this is probably a good thing. For the intrepid, destinations like Virachay National Park, the Cardamons, Anlong Veng and parts of Ko Kong are all very rewarding – and there is tremendous potential to develop these in an environmentally switched-on fashion. Unfortunately, this rests in the hands of the administration, which going on past developments, isn’t very reassuring.

Screening quality travel content: Travelfish has engendered an active online community. PHOTO SUPPLIED

It doesn't matter how funky your multi-million-dollar web site looks – if you haven’t been there, you haven't been there.

FROM today the Phnom Penh Post will be bringing you travel content from Travelfish, a well-regarded online guide to travel in Southeast Asia.

The site is the brainchild of Australian Stuart McDonald, who has lived and travelled extensively throughout the region, including two years in Phnom Penh.

He also wrote and self-published guidebooks to Vietnam and Thailand before looking after The Nation's online newspaper in Thailand.

"The Nation put me in a position where I was willing to try just about anything to get out," says McDonald. "And that was Travelfish."

Founded in 2003, the site now boasts a flourishing online community plus a team of freelancers who do a lot of the on-the-ground research.

Travelfish also innovated the concept of PDF formatted eBooks on specific destinations available for instant download - thus relieving backpackers of the need to lug bulky, dog-eared, quickly outdated guidebooks.

When and how did the inspiration for Travelfish strike?
Samantha (my partner) and I settled on the framework on a weekend break on Ko Maak island, Thailand. With my past experience doing guidebooks, some idea of how to make Web sites and Sam's writing and editing ability, it all just fell together.

We started off just covering a few of our favourite spots in Thailand, but the site now covers over 300 destinations in six countries.

Has the emergence of e-book readers, like Amazon's Kindle, helped sales of your Travelfish Guides at all?
We sold our first Travelfish Guide in October 2006 - about a month before the Kindle was released. At the time, the intention was for the guides to be printed off and used in that manner.

Today the focus is more on other mobile devices like Apple's iPhone, and while I'm sure all these gizmos have helped our sales along, I believe most people just print them off.

Do you think printed travel guides have effectively had their day?
No. Despite a seemingly never-ending barrage of over-funded travel start-ups, they aren't bringing much new to the table.
It doesn't matter how funky your multi-million-dollar Web site looks - if you haven't been there, you haven't been there.
We have; as have most of the "old school" travel guides, or so they claim.

While crowd-sourced content like TripAdvisor has its place, I still believe that independent paid research has a very important role to play - and guidebooks is where you find most of it.

And anyway who wants to throw their iPhone or laptop at the rat scurrying across the floor? That's what Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring is for.

Which comment about Travel-fish has pleased you most?
I get a lot of pleasure out of helping people on the Travelfish forum, and I get a lot of personal emails thanking me for assistance - that's always good.

On a larger scale, Travelfish has been described on a number of occasions as "the most consistently updated Web site for independent travellers to Southeast Asia" - that was nice.

And most despondent?
The ongoing uncertainties in Thailand are a source of frustration. Sometimes it seems like they're intent on decimating their tourist industry with an almost human-made tsunami. The airport shutdowns last year, in peak season, were disastrous, the red shirt/yellow shirt protests over Songkran not much better.

Today it has a lame duck government presiding over a flatlining domestic economy. The result: a tightening of visa regulations. It's madness and makes Indonesia look positively progressive.

What copyright problems have you experienced with the site?
Dealing with other Web sites ripping off our content is an ongoing and rapidly growing problem. Unlike many travel Web sites, all our researchers are paid, meaning that putting together meaningful content on over 3,500 places to stay in over 300 destinations across six countries is a substantial outlay.

We work hard to protect this investment. While there are relatively straightforward means to have content removed (or at least removed from the search engines), it is frustrating and time consuming. Vietnamese travel agents have been particularly problematic.

What are your thoughts on the tourism scene in Cambodia?
Consolidation. We're in the process of adding more depth to our content - giving our readers more of a historical context to what they're reading, and we're also working on the first full translation of the site into a European language. We're just starting to leverage the power of Google Maps to give our readers more flexible content. Our map of Phnom Penh is a fine example of this.

Down the line, we'll be looking at tailoring content for phones and whatnot, but for now we're really concentrating on doing what we already do better.

Visit travelfish by www.travelfish.org


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