- the guide to rely on - France without the hype
A post by the founding editor
Welcome to About-France.com !
I set up this site way back in 2003, I did so for one main reason.
Doing some research for a tourism course that I was teaching at
university, I was appalled by the number of self-styled
websites that were already out there on the Internet, stuffed with
platitudes, second-hand content, and downright errors. Something better
was urgently needed.
It was clear – for anyone who knew France – that many of
early travel websites were written by people who had never visited the
country, beyond maybe a few days in Paris, but were setting themselves
as armchair experts to tell others what to see and how to travel. Back
in those early days, websites about France were also largely, if not
exclusively, about Paris, and maybe the French Alps and the Riviera.
Other parts might as well not have existed.... or at least if they did,
the Internet (in the days when the main search engine was called Alta
Vista) couldn't find anything about them.
Little did I
imagine at the time that the situation would not only not improve with
time – after all the Internet was in its infancy back in 2003
but that it would get worse....
But that's what has
happened, leaving the prospective traveller with a major dilemma :
which websites to believe, what information to take seriously, and how
to recognise exaggerated click-bait (and that can include travel pages
on reputable newspaper websites), and second-hand hyperbole. Not to
mention very partial and biassed information.
Banal posts and fake reviews
Unfortunately, there's a flourishing business on the Internet involving
writers who will cobble together supposedly informed and informative
travel articles or posts about all the great places they have never
every week About-France.com is contacted by self-styled experts
offering guest posts on any subject we choose. While few
propose a specific topic, unless it is with the aim of
specific commercial website, some propose sample posts, stuffed with
banalities wrapped in hype and most likely sourced from Wikipedia. Few
if any of
these writers are based in France: most are not even based in
Europe.... so they're not for About-France.com.
reason this business exists – just like the industrial-scale writing of
product or service reviews for cash by people who have never
bought the product or used the service – is that people can make money
out of it. There are a whole lot of websites that are happy
buy or take guest posts in exchange for a link – with no
questions asked, neither about the originality of the guest post, nor
whether it is factually accurate, which is often not the case.
Then there's the constant use of hype on travel sites, for which the
travel industry has essentially itself to blame. Travel
local authorities and their websites wax lyrical about the products
they're trying to sell or promote; and even though they, unlike the
"write about anything" posters, tend to know the places they're talking
about – their writing is essentially advertising
hype. Rose-tinted spectacles are the order of the day. When there's
accommodation to be sold, or visitors to bring in, hotels are all
fantastic, seaside resorts all have fabulous beaches, villages are all
medieval, and the local wine is always top class. Then there are all
those fake reviews, written for money. In spite of the criticism, the
world's leading travel advice website still allows anyone to post a
review on anything, whether they've actually been there, seen it, or
not – so who's to know if a review is genuine or fake?
As for visuals, the sun shines
brightly in almost all travel photos, except when it's a
sunset. And when the photo doesn't show a dramatic
sunset, it only takes
a few minutes with a photo editing programme to create a dramatic light
effect for a fairly bland scene – as with the photo at the top of this
Accurate and unbiassed travel information
About-France.com is not a marketing site, nor an advertising
site. It was set up as an information site, with a single remit – to be
a source of accurate, informed, informative and unbiassed information
about France, French life and travel and tourism in France. And that is
still its mission today.
Things have changed a bit;
ten years ago, the word "best" was not much used on About-France.com.
That's changed not because we now claim to know what is best, but
because millions of travellers worldwide are searching on the
Internet to find information about the "best" things to see
the "best" places to see. Newspaper columnists fall over themselves to
claim that they have unique unparalleled insights into what is "best"
in France.... even to the point of claiming that they know "without any
doubt" the best small town or even the best restaurant .... as if there
were some kind of objective yardstick to measure "bests of" by, like
book sales or sports records. There is not.
However, given the apparent demand for "best of"
lists, there are now a number of these on About-France.com,
because that's what people are looking for. But as we state on many
pages, "best of" lists are by nature subjective, they are
never complete, and at least
on About-France.com lists are original work, drawn up from experience,
not copied from somewhere else.
For instance there exists an "official" list of "les plus
villages de France" (the "most beautiful villages in France"); however
About-France.com does not reproduce this list, as it is only a list of
villages that meet specific criteria, and pay a good
annual fee to get listed. The "official" list is by no means objective,
even if all the villages listed on it are all attractive, they
are certainly not the only
attractive villages in France... and some have been quite spoilt by the
rush of tourists.
About-France.com does not claim to have
a full list of all the attractive villages in France either; but
About-France.com's lists are based on visitor experience, not on the
payment of a fee. No village, no town, no area,
no site, no hotel and no attraction ever pays to be listed or mentioned
on About-France.com. And though the practice is rampant throughout the
travel media, broadcast print and online, About-France.com does not
accept hospitality in exchange for glowing travel reviews and posts.
Advertising, but no hype
In the early years About-France did not carry any advertising; many
pages still do not carry advertising, and we do not use any form of
invasive popup advertising. About-France.com regularly
offers from agencies wanting to buy advertising space.
However running a substantial website like About-France.com,
enough content to fill a 500-page travel guide if there were a print
version, takes time and money, and that's why the site carries some
low-key advertising. Without the revenue from
advertising and useful links to commercial travel services, helping
users to book hotel rooms or travel tickets for example, the costs of
running this website, including hosting, advertising, website
security and services, would be prohibitive.
information, no hype. That was the idea and the ideal when About-France
was first launched back in 2003. And with the freedom of an independent
website with no commercial obligations and no bias, that is the way
About-France will remain.
With its commitment to accurate
travel information, About-France.com welcomes feedback (both positive
and negative) and suggestions from visitors and residents... but
please, no hype !