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Page last updated at 09:33 GMT, Monday, 14 April 2008 10:33 UK

Lonely Planet rebuts 'fake' claim

A man on a bike in Bogota, Colombia
Thomas Kohnstamm says he never visited the streets of Colombia

Lonely Planet has insisted its travel books are accurate, after reports that one of its former writers claimed he had made up sections in its guides.

Author Thomas Kohnstamm said he had accepted free services, contravening company policy, and did not even visit one of the countries he wrote about.

Lonely Planet says it has reviewed the books that Mr Kohnstamm contributed to but has so far found no inaccuracies.

It also denied that the author's methods were common in travel writing.

"It isn't commonplace, because we have no evidence that the things that he alleges that he did working on the Brazil 5 guide... applied to other books," Stephen Palmer, the chief executive of Lonely Planet, told BBC News.

Free gifts

Mr Kohnstamm has been publicising his new book, Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? It tells how he travelled South America, selling drugs to supplement his income and enjoying casual sex, sometimes in the establishments he wrote about.

He says that after having sex with a waitress on a table after hours, he reviewed the restaurant with the words "the table service is friendly".

He also said he never visited Colombia, despite being hired to write about it.

"They didn't pay me enough to go to Colombia. I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating - an intern at the Colombian consulate," he was quoted as telling Australia's Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

Piers Pickard, from the publisher of the Lonely Planet guide books, said Mr Kohnstamm's claim was "disingenuous", because he was commissioned to write about the history of Colombia, not to review services in the country.

"Thomas' claims are not an accurate reflection of how our authors work," Mr Pickard told the Associated Press news agency.

Other travel writers, while not endorsing Mr Kohnstamm's methods, said he was reporting genuine failures in the travel-writing industry - that writers are poorly paid, have to cover their own costs, and were expected to check a vast amount of detail.

However, Stephen Palmer defended Lonely Planet's payment system, saying: "We're pretty confident that we pay right at the top of the range."

Lonely Planet is 75% owned by BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC.


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