Tag Archives: Guides

Could Lonely Planet Render World Bank Projects More Transparent?

That was the unexpected question that my World Bank colleague Johannes Kiess asked me the other day. I was immediately intrigued. So I did some preliminary research and offered to write up a blog post on the idea to solicit some early feedback. According to recent statistics, international tourist arrivals numbered over 1 billion in 2012 alone. Of this population, the demographic that Johannes is interested in comprises those intrepid and socially-conscious backpackers who travel beyond the capitals of developing countries. Perhaps the time is ripe for a new form of tourism: Tourism for Social Good.


There may be a real opportunity to engage a large crowd because travelers—and in particular the backpacker type—are smartphone savvy, have time on their hands, want to do something meaningful, are eager to get off the beaten track and explore new spaces where others do not typically trek. Johannes believes this approach could be used to map critical social infrastructure and/or to monitor development projects. Consider a simple smartphone app, perhaps integrated with existing travel guide apps or Tripadvisor. The app would ask travelers to record the quality of the roads they take (with the GPS of their smartphone) and provide feedback on the condition, e.g.,  bumpy, even, etc., every 50 miles or so.

They could be asked to find the nearest hospital and take a geotagged picture—a scavenger hunt for development (as Johannes calls it); Geocaching for Good? Note that governments often do not know exactly where schools, hospitals and roads are located. The app could automatically alert travelers of a nearby development project or road financed by the World Bank or other international donor. Travelers could be prompted to take (automatically geo-tagged) pictures that would then be forwarded to development organizations for subsequent visual analysis (which could easily be carried out using microtasking). Perhaps a very simple, 30-second, multiple-choice survey could even be presented to travelers who pass by certain donor-funded development projects. For quality control purposes, these pictures and surveys could easily be triangulated. Simple gamification features could also be added to the app; travelers could gain points for social good tourism—collect 100 points and get your next Lonely Planet guide for free? Perhaps if you’re the first person to record a road within the app, then it could be named after you (of course with a notation of the official name). Even Photosynth could be used to create panoramas of visual evidence.

The obvious advantage of using travelers against the now en vogue stakeholder monitoring approach is that they said bagpackers are already traveling there anyway and have their phones on them to begin with. Plus, they’d be independent third parties and would not need to be trained. This obviously doesn’t mean that the stakeholder approach is not useful. The travelers strategy would simply be complementary. Furthermore, this tourism strategy comes with several key challenges, such as the safety of backpackers who choose to take on this task, for example. But appropriate legal disclaimers could be put in place, so this challenge seems surmountable. In any event, Johannes, together with his colleagues at the World Bank (and I), hope to explore this idea of Tourism for Social Good further in the coming months.

In the meantime, we would be very grateful for feedback. What might we be overlooking? Would you use such an app if it were available? Where can we find reliable statistics on top backpacker destinations and flows?


See also: 

  • What United Airlines can Teach the World Bank about Mobile Accountability [Link]

What do Travel Guides and Nazi Germany have to do with Crisis Mapping and Security?

I recently discovered Baedekers, a German-based publisher and pioneer in the business of worldwide travel guides. Founded in 1827 by Karl Baedeker, the travel guides became soon became so famous that baedekering actually became an “English-language term  for the process of travelling a country for the purpose of writing a travel guide or travelogue about it.”

Travel guides are of course very good sources of information and have multiple uses. Indeed, whilst interning as a Research Associate at the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in Washington DC some 10 years ago, I had access to the largest collection of travel guides I had ever seen in my life. Whilst crisis mapping the Haiti earthquake 2 years ago, one of the most important references we had  was the Lonely Planet Guide for Haiti. Indeed, we bought 2 copies just 48 hours after the earthquake. They must be the most used travel guides of Haiti that have never made it to Haiti.

No surprises then that the Nazi government commissioned the publication of several Baedeker guides of occupied regions of Europe such as Alsace and parts of Poland. But I was stunned to learn that the Luftwaffe reportedly used the Baedeker guides in their operations. Indeed, the “Baedeker Blitz” refers to a series of retaliatory raids by the German air force on several British cities in April 1942. While these cities, Exeter, Bath, Norwich and York, were of little strategic importance, they were picturesque and historically important. The raids were conducted in retaliation for the Royal Air Force’s widespread destruction of Lübeck, a historic German city.

The raids were called the “Baedeker Blitz” because it was “believed the towns had been “selected from the German Baedeker Tourist Guide to Britain, meeting the criterion of having been awarded three stars (for their historical significance).”  Indeed, Baron Gustav Braun von Stumm, a German propagandist is reported to have said: “We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide.” Some 1,600 British civilians were killed as a result and some 1,700 injured.

Clearly, travel guides provide situational awareness to both the intrepid traveler in Southern France and the German Luftwaffe in Great Britain. Banning and burning all travel guides as a result would be absurd. (Ironically, Baedeker’s offices were destroyed in a December 1943 air raid). Live crisis maps also provide situational awareness for multiple actors who may use these maps for various purposes. Should we therefore ban and delete all crisis maps? Probably not, even if we could. Instead, appropriate threat-mitigation strategies need to be developed and lessons learned have to be shared quickly and effectively. I do hope that the CrisisMappers Network‘s new Security Working Group will pave the way forward on this.