Monday 6 March 2017

Biting the hand?

I felt a bit got at today. Arriving in the city for an event, the ferry pulled in near the Azamara Journey, a small-ship cruiser moored at Princes Wharf. It’s recently refurbished, on its first visit to NZ, and later this week I’ll be travelling on it from Wellington to Sydney, via the South Island. So, naturally, I took a photo.

There was a shriek behind me as I framed it. “You are THE LAST PERSON I would expect to see photographing a CRUISE SHIP! HORRENDOUS! I would HATE to go on one of those, couldn’t imagine anything WORSE! GHASTLY!!!”

It was a travel colleague, older than me, but still with yachting in her blood and so scathing about how you’re nowhere near the water on a cruise ship and might as well not be at sea at all, it’s just a hotel. And on, and on. Her diatribe had a familiar ring, because it’s almost exactly what I say myself about the big ships, with their thousands of passengers and golf courses and gondolas and climbing walls and suchlike. I felt somewhat nonplussed to be on the receiving end of such disparagement, when I’d actually been quite looking forward to the cruise.

And afterwards, at the event, which was a presentation by various travel people, the final speaker was less emphatic than Geraldine but equally heartfelt in his criticisms of people who accept complimentary famils - “for example, cruises” - in order to write about them. He maintained that it could only ever be advertorial in essence, however independent the writer claimed to be. 

Ever get that feeling that there’s a huge arrow, pointing downwards, hanging right over your head?

People often ask about this aspect of travel writing, and my usual reply is that I only accept trips that appeal to me, and since they’re arranged by professionals who want me to have a good time, it’s very rare that I have anything to complain about. And that’s true. Occasionally things go wrong, and that’s usually fun for the story – but doing a puff piece about somewhere I hated? Doesn’t happen.

Nothing’s ever 100% perfect, though. Should I make more of a feature of the bits I don’t like? But you can’t fit everything into 800 or 1000 words, and there is always a bit of discreet veil-drawing – as much because of places trying to please all the people, as anything else. One woman’s heavenly spa treatment is another’s personal-space-invading hell, after all.

But I will keep it in mind, when I’m on the Journey. I’ll ask the other passengers what they think; and I’ll try not to worry about hurting the feelings of the eager PR person who is arranging the trip. I shall aim (as, to be fair, I always have) for journalistic integrity. If there are dust bunnies under the bed, they will have their moment of fame.

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