Media Musings

I was just in LA working to promote my new Travel as a Political Act book. I got to be on the Tavis Smiley Show(which will air nationally on PBS starting this Friday). He is a beautiful man, and it was a joy to sit down with him (cameras rolling) and explain how my passion for getting value out of travel fits his passion for America getting it right.

It’s occurring to me that being a PBS celebrity and living in Seattle isn’t the best recipe for getting media exposure. Media is commercial — advertising is its lifeblood. I went to Rachael Ray headquarters last week in NYC for an “informational interview” with one of her editors. While she may be the emerging Martha Stewart (and I find her smile strangely mesmerizing), it was clear from our meeting that my passion for people-to-people travel didn’t fit their corporate-friendly approach to tourism. We politely chit-chatted for a few minutes, each of us wondering, “Who set up this interview?”…and then said “best wishes,” knowing we were as different as a front door and a back door, and that nothing would come of that meeting.

On the other hand, I’ve been able to talk with Bob Edwards (PBS and Sirius — big mind, inspirationally insightful, a thrill to talk with for 40 minutes), Alan Colmes (Fox Radio — a fun and very engaging man), lots of NPR hosts, and the extremely progressive Pacifica radio in LA. In each case, we had enthusiastic conversations, and know that we’ll be talking more in the future.

Getting all this media to promote a book is exhausting, time-consuming, and an almost demoralizing struggle. But yesterday I sat in a chair still warm from the interviewee before me — Francis Ford Coppola. If the exposure was worth it for him to talk up his new movie…I guess it’s worth it for me to talk up my new book.

One thing has occurred to me over the 20-some interviews I’ve done in the last week: Encouraging people to make travel a political act may get me on progressive radio stations, but that kind of travel is something the industry in general will never embrace. Tourism is huge money, with lots of investments, and it’s a challenge to keep travelers blindered and focused on the commercial aspect of tourism.

By most accounts, tourism and armaments are the two biggest industries on earth. Using tourism to build understanding between cultures and peoples helps the short-term bottom line of neither.


18 Replies to “Media Musings”

  1. I believe your effort to promote understanding between cultures and peoples is awesome. The group People to People International appears to have some of the same goals. I applaud you. It doesn’t matter to me what the tourism industry wants. I spent 10 days by myself in Italy and Southern France in December 2008. I was asked for directions once in each country when I was wandering around doing non-tourism type things and just enjoying the people. How awesome was it to be mistaken for someone who knew what they were doing. What a joy is was to watch people in the Galleria in Milan. They weren’t on their cellphones. They engaged with each other. They actually looked at and touched each other. I purchased a couple of small items for my family on that trip but I came home with no souvenirs for myself. I simply care about being with the people and learning about how they live and think and want to save my money to support my growing “habit”. What a blessing it is to have the opportunity to engage with other cultures. Thank you for giving me glimpses into new places I had not considered before.

  2. Rick, I think that you’re being a little disingenuous with your ‘anti-tourism’ approach to travel. I have used your books throughout several European travel and love your recommendations, places to go — and especially your approach to go beyond the ‘purchased smile’ of the five star luxury hotel. You cover very much the ‘biggie tourist sites’ in great detail, and additionally some wonderful local experiences. But, this is still very much tourism, albeit a slightly different kind. Frankly, your career and wealth is built on people looking for European tourism. While, you certainly can espouse whatever views you like, slamming the tourism industry, while promoting and living off the receipts from group tours and guide books, smacks as a tad ‘back door disagreeing with the front door.’ By the way, I love your books and am looking forward to going to Greece this summer and have already purchased your new Athens book.

  3. So you only like to do interviews with people who agree with your point of view?… How about a lively debate, or even just lively insights from your travels. I bought and read your book (your welcome) and I enjoyed it; I did not agree with some of the points in each chapter but found the travel musing excellent. That is why I keep coming back. As for your only liking interviews with your “own kind” maybe you should open up and share your thoughts with others. Take Iran for instance-with the termoil of the last week what are your thoughts. Get out and interview and debate those that might disagree with you on some issues (like me) but who enjoy smart debate. Don’t always preach to the choir! Keep up the travel!

  4. Rick – I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Alan “Combs” of Fox Radio is actually Alan “Colmes.” But here’s a question for you: Why have you been so silent on the current situation in Iran? Some intelligent, insightful comments from you regarding the mass protests and obvious election fraud will be a great service to the technological savvy, freedom-seeking youth who are currently being butchered in the streets of Tehran by the state police.

  5. Bob K, I think you misunderstand the distinction Rick is making. When he talks about corporate tourism, he means lying on a beach for 10 days, eating familiar food and not really being challenged to think or learn anything new. This is all good and well and there are certainly times in our lives when we need to shut down and not do anything but relax. However, if that is the only thing you ever do with your vacation days, you might be missing out on learning about our world and gaining a better understanding where other non-U.S. people are coming from. This broadened perspective and understanding can come in handy in our globalized times and as Rick suggests in his book title, at the polling booth when you are weighing foreign policy positions held by your elected officials. What Rick promotes is travel, rather than just tourism, where you see new things, learn about your world and talk to the local inhabitants. Visiting the biggie tourism sites is part of travel because the Vatican and Roman forum, for example, give you insight into how Western culture developed. But while you’re in Rome, why not drop by a little trattoria and chat up the waiter about his opinion of the latest Burlesconi fiasco? Why not take a moment and observe how people live and how they do things differently? What’s on the front page of the Italian newspapers today? That’s where you become a traveler, rather than just a tourist mindlessly lounging on the beach or just checking off the major sites between visits to McDonald’s.

  6. I got so caught up in responding to Bob K. that I forgot my reason for posting to begin with– Rick, why aren’t you commenting on the Iran situation? Did you ever foresee these protests and anti-Ahmenadinjah sentiments when you were filming there last year?

  7. Maybe you should talk to Anthony Bourdain’s people. He’s not really into site-seeing and politics, but the two of you seem to share similar ideas to approaching local culture. His emphasis is more on food, though.

  8. I agree with Andrea — People to People International is a wonderful organization; I went to Russia, Hungary and Kazakhstan after the fall of the Soviet Union, and it was a life-changing experience. Rick, maybe you could get interviewed by Bill Moyers — what an interesting conversation that would be!

  9. Rick Steves probably gets satisfaction from provoking responses to his blogs even when some responders “kick-him-in-the-pants,” figuratively speaking,for his views. I believe he recognizes that there is a market for loyal and royal opposition, even for a little vitriol, and I think he also learns a few new things when he gets that kind of feedback. What a dull world it would be if we all agreed about everything. And of course any attention at all is better than total anonymity if you lead a company which bears your own name. Bill Kester, Pendleton, South Carolina

  10. I would love to see a joint Rick Steves Tony Bourdain show– I wonder how they would interact? Although Tony has a more cynical edge to him and Rick is a little more optimistic and wholesome, they are pretty skeptical of slick salespeople who want something from them. Jim, I don’t understand your comment. Rick has been critical of what is going on in Iraq. Did you mean to type Iran?

  11. interviewed for Tavis Smiley? Awesome, he’s fantastic; such a vital commentator for my community. I just wished his show didn’t air until 12:30 in the morning in Houston (For the DVR-less). Hopefully the topic of minority travel will be touched on. Even more urgently, you will expound on your recent travel to Iran. (Something tells me you will dedicate an entry on the current crisis when the time is right. We’ve heard enough knee-jerk reactions from Washington already). Frankly, traveling is great because there are so many ways to do it. Where of us prefer the Back Door, others like conventional, packaged, institutionalized tourism. I have to say I share Robyn’s philosophy, getting as close to a country’s culture as possible. My fondest memories are the conversations with locals and other independent travelers. But hey, to each their own. As Cody ChesnuTT sings, “It ain’t Rock, it ain’t Roll, if we don’t disagree…”

  12. My question: is doing PBS material mutually exclusive from doing commerical media stuff? My point: can’t there be valuable information cross-shared between public and private (ie “corporate”) tourism? I’m no real fan of Rachel Ray’s either, but I have watched a few of her travel shows, and I have to admit that her snappy, quick vignettes on a given restaurant or locale in a given city is done pretty well. Likewise, but NOT contrary, I appreciate your in-depth, more “people-to-people” approach to travel, Rick. You certainly tend to emphasize the “get-to-know-the-locals” approach to travel, which is something that greatly appeals to me and others, but what’s wrong with a quick vignette about “…when you’re in Chicago, you DON’T want to miss out on a trip to Hot Doug’s, one of the best hot dog restaurant in America…”, even if there’s a big corporate machine behind it? Again, I don’t see the two as incompatible or mutually exclusive. Actually, I think if the two approaches are taken together it could lead to a more enjoyable travel scenario overall: See the touristy stuff AND make an effort to get to know the locals. That’s kinda my approach to travel, and I don’t much care whether a large, corporate entity or a small public media publication provides quality travel information. I generally dip from both pools to make arrive at a good judgment, and it nearly always produces a satisfying travel experience.

  13. I would love to see a joint Rick Steves Tony Bourdain show. Bourdain tag-teamed with Andrew Zimmer for one episode, so maybe anything is possible. Of course, they both work for the same network and live in the same city, so it was probably easier to arrange.

  14. Great show Rick…I admit at first I had a problem with you only getting half a show. but the Georgian woman’s story in the first segment was fascinating.

  15. Where is Rick’s Iran post? It’s been gone for over 20 minutes. Will it reappear with a different spin?

    Editor’s Note: Rick’s posting about Iran was, indeed, removed from this blog, because we are preparing to publish it in a much higher-profile venue soon. Rick’s opinion on the issue has not changed. Thanks for the interest and stay tuned.

  16. I agree. I would love to see a show series with Rick Steves and Anthony Bourdain. They’re complete opposites but I think they’d actually get along pretty well. That would be fun show to watch just to see the contrasts in style and personality. Rick can share his travel skills with Tony and Tony can share his food knowledge with Rick. Anthony’s friend Mario Batali has a show on PBS now, so why not?!

  17. Maybe you picked the wrong Rachel Ray show. Have you ever watched her travel show on Food Network, where she goes to different locations and tours a city and finds the best restaurants for the best prices! She reminds me of you!

Comments are closed.