Tourist 'bibles' angering Hawai'i businesses, officials
By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Staff Writer
They've been banned from book shops, cursed by landowners, maligned by local businesses and frowned upon by public safety authorities.
The "Revealed" series of Hawai'i travel guide books are enjoying phenomenal success, outselling nationally produced books and soaring to the top of the Hawai'i travel guide market.
Authors Andrew Doughty and Harriett Friedman moved to Kaua'i a decade ago or so, were smitten and stayed, forming Wizard Publications Inc. and writing "The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook," followed by "Hawaii The Big Island Revealed" and then "Maui Revealed."
Brace yourselves, O'ahu, because "Oahu Revealed" is scheduled to come out in October.
While the best-selling books are cleverly written, nicely packaged and filled with easy-to-follow directions, maps and colorful illustrations, they have been stirring hard feelings with their brutally candid opinions and directions to "secret" waterfalls, hiking trails and snorkeling spots previously known only to longtime residents and their friends.
The books have rankled on several fronts: for supposedly encouraging tourists to go on private property, for despoiling formerly hidden places with crowds of visitors and for blunt reviews of restaurants, visitor-oriented businesses and tourist attractions.
What's more, some authorities say the books are leading visitors to remote places where they can get into serious trouble.
Last month, a California man and his daughter were swept into the ocean while visiting remote seaside pools that Doughty and Friedman claim credit for being the first to discover in print.
The daughter was rescued, but the father, Palm Desert real estate agent Larry Lyle, drowned before emergency crews could arrive 45 minutes later.
Lyle's brother, Steve Lyle, said "Maui Revealed" led his brother's family to the so-called Olivine Pools where they got into trouble.
"It looked like a safe place. It said in 'Maui Revealed' it was a safe place. But it was not," Lyle said.
The authors, who say they work anonymously, declined to be interviewed in person or by telephone, saying they prefer to keep a low profile and steer clear of press coverage. Doughty, the lead author, did agree to answer some questions via e-mail.
On the Olivine Pools situation, he said the book offers more than enough ocean safety information.
"... We spend over an entire page dedicated to that subject alone. We also mention that high tide/high surf at that spot can ruin the area. The safety section tells how to find out current surf and tide conditions. And the safety section also takes pains to warn visitors 'never to walk too close to the shore break or a large wave could knock you over and pull you in.' "
But if readers skip over those passages and go directly to the pages featuring the spot, they'll read that the pools are "a calm playground in a stormy sea." From one pool, the book says, the view of the "ocean cauldron beyond makes you feel snug and smug."
Visiting the Olivine Pools recently was Joe Lozano of Culver City, Calif., who said he conducted library research before his fourth trip to Maui this month and found "Maui Revealed" superior to the better-known guidebooks.
"It's definitely the best," Lozano said. "There's stuff in there I hadn't heard about or seen before, and the tips were dead-on. Everything it said is true. It's the best guidebook to Maui, that's for sure."
All the visitors who were at the pools at the same time said "Maui Revealed" had brought them there. They also said they were happy with the guidance it was providing.
Doughty described the books and their appeal this way: "We speak to our readers the way you'd speak to your friends. If you were driving with a visiting relative and he suggested a restaurant for lunch that you thought was lousy, what would you tell him? You'd say, 'You don't want to go there, the food's terrible and the service stinks.' Our books aren't about revealing secret places. They're the equivalent of sending a friend ahead of you on vacation, doing the things you plan to do and reporting his opinions. Our books are about our opinions and our experiences. Nothing more, nothing less."
The authors are not afraid to express their opinion. Tourists seem to appreciate that. But watch out if your company doesn't measure up to their standards.
Jim Coon, owner of Trilogy sailing tours, said his company endured a significant loss in business after a less-than-glowing description of its operations.
"They really hurt us," he said. "It wounded us deeply."
Coon said the review was not only unfair but described their tours inaccurately.
"They tainted us with a brush that is not what we are all about," he said. "It was a terrible disservice, because we strive for excellence. We've earned our reputation one guest at a time over the last 30 years."
It takes Doughty and Friedman one to two years to complete a first-edition book, and they boast in print that they may be the only guidebook writers who actually live their books hiking the trails, riding the boats and eating at the restaurants they cover. The maps and photos are exceptional, in part because Doughty does his own cartography and flies an ultralight airplane to take pictures.
The authors declined to release their sales figures, but the Maui, Big Island and Kaua'i books rank in the top five on Amazon.com's list of best-selling U.S. travel books, and an official with Borders bookstores in Hawai'i confirmed the guides' popularity.
A May 9 article in the Anchorage Daily News declared "Hawaii The Big Island Revealed" the "Hawai'i Bible," and "Maui Revealed" was similarly described in a Los Angeles Times travel piece last month.
Writer Jody Jaffe of Silver Spring, Md., author of the Times article, said she did an exhaustive search for guidebooks before her family trip to the Big Island and Maui last year.
"Everything I read and saw said this is the guidebook to use," she said. And it turns out it was, she said, noting that it was especially helpful in recommending inexpensive, off-the-beaten-path adventures that her family enjoyed immensely.
Others, apparently, weren't so lucky. In November, 24 hikers were rescued from an East Maui trail when they were trapped by a flash flood. Assistant Maui Fire Chief Frank Tam said the hikers told him they learned about the remote trail in "Maui Revealed."
"I'm shocked that people even know these places exist," Tam said.
In 1997, fire officials on the Big Island blamed the first edition of "Hawaii The Big Island Revealed" for sending tourists on adventures that involve trespassing through private forests and risking injury, exhaustion and unforgiving lava fields.
Moreover, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park ranger Mardie Lane said park officials were alarmed after the book suggested a trail that led straight to the Pu'u 'O'o vent.
"They were inviting readers to do something that was both illegal and death-defying," Lane said.
The guidebook was banned from the park's book shop, and "Maui Revealed" was later rejected by the Haleakala National Park bookstore for including misleading information and describing activities that could lead tourists into danger.
Kaua'i Visitor Bureau Executive Director Sue Kanoho last month sent a pointed letter to the publishers of all the Kaua'i guidebooks including Wizard Publications reminding authors to include enough warnings about ocean safety, especially in the Queen's Bath and Polihale Beach areas, where there have been recent visitor drownings. The letter also cautioned against encouraging trespassing, an ongoing problem in the Kipu Falls area.
Doughty said that while it's true the books strive to highlight places that are not run-of-the-mill tourist traps, their success has led people to assume they are the only ones mentioning certain spots.
For instance, "Maui Revealed" has been blasted for giving directions to an East Maui waterfall that requires crossing private land. But the same waterfall is featured in at least a half-dozen other books, including "Frommers," "Lonely Planet," "Maui Handbook," "Maui Trailblazer," "Maui Trails," "Driving and Discovering Maui," and "Hiking Maui."
Frank James Oliveira said "99.9 percent" of those who visit Helele'ike'oha Falls, also known as Blue Pool, are armed with "Maui Revealed."
Oliveira, whose family owns property that includes part of the pool, said the book is written in such a way that it whips tourists into a frenzy of entitlement that exempts them from obeying "no trespassing" signs and leads them into potentially dangerous activities.
Traffic on the private dirt road to Blue Pool has increased to an average of 300 cars a day, he said.
"It's a major headache," he said.
Garett Hew, East Maui Irrigation manager, said the publication of "Maui Revealed" has prompted a marked increase in the number of people trespassing on EMI watershed looking for places to swim and hike.
"This is a very sensitive area, and most of the land is zoned in the restricted conservation zone, which means that there are very limited activity that can occur on the land," he said.
"Maui Revealed" also has been criticized for telling people how to get to a cove that requires a hike through state-protected 'Ahihi-Kina'u Natural Area Reserve in South Maui.
Doughty responded, "But what is never mentioned is that the people criticizing us are the ones who make their living taking visitors (for a fee, of course) to that very cove."
For now, Doughty and Friedman have been working on the upcoming release of "Oahu Revealed," living in Kailua and traveling into Waikiki.
Is there really anything left to "reveal" on O'ahu?
"More than I would have thought," Doughty said.
Reach Timothy Hurley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (808) 244-4880.