Susan Kurosawa was 14-years-old when she read Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile and decided she had to go to Egypt someday. Now a veteran travel reporter, Susan has achieved that goal and much more, boasting nearly 30 years' experience chronicling her international adventures for major news outlets around the world. She has lived and worked overseas, reporting from countries including England, Hong Kong, France, and Japan. During this time, Susan has done and seen it all, from exploring the River Nile and visiting the world's most luxurious hotels, to being detained by Chinese police, or seeking shelter in an Indian airport during a violent storm.
She is currently an Associate Editor (Travel) at The Australian, as well as a Hotels Columnist at WISH Magazine, a monthly supplement in The Australian. Telum Media spoke to Susan about her career, how travel journalism has evolved, and what she forecasts for the future of a sector emerging from a global pandemic.
Getting her start
Susan voyaged into travel writing by accident. She launched her career as a journalist, covering news and features at The Japan Times in Tokyo, and because she had lived and worked abroad, Susan was asked to move into travel writing. She was living in Japan when she wrote her first travel piece about climbing Mount Fuji.
After that, she told Telum, she was hooked on travel journalism. “It just snowballed from there”, Susan said. “It wasn’t actually a career goal, but it has turned out to be something I love.”
An ever-changing industry
Having covered travel since the early 1990s, Susan has had a window seat to the industry's evolution. “Travel has never been cheaper or easier”, Susan said. The travel industry has grown rapidly over the decades, and its scale and scope has led to more competitive rates, the introduction of hotel and airline loyalty programmes, and packages with value-added extras. These developments have made travel more accessible and affordable for the average Australian. “I love the fact that travel is now so democratised, and not the preserve of the rich”, she said.
In her time at The Australian, Susan has covered everything from her experience holidaying like the Hemsworths
or observing the Sydney Hilton's AU$25 million renovation
, to shipping container accommodation
and regional road trips
Cruising has also become hugely popular recently, particularly with retirees and multiple generations of families travelling on a budget. Rather than the traditional Australian annual holiday, often to the same location each year, Susan has noticed a trend shift towards shorter trips to a variety of different locations. “It used to be one big annual holiday and often to the same destination. Now it’s much more likely to be shorter seasonal trips with a vast variety of domestic and international choices”, she said.
The evolution of the travel writing genre’
Travel writing as a genre has also evolved in parallel with the industry. “Travel writing is taken much more seriously by newspapers and magazines as a proper journalistic ‘round’ with news aspects and trends,” Susan said. At the same time, there is a growing number of freelancers, influencers, and bloggers who refer to themselves as ‘travel writers’ but have no formal training or background in the craft.
“When asked what I do, I never reply "travel writer" as I think the term has been so diminished as to be almost a joke. I always refer to myself as a journalist”, Susan said. Despite the growth of social-led travel writing, Susan believes that traditional travel journalism will prevail. “Journalism is a profession that requires years of training and adherence to strict codes of ethics and practice”, she said.
“Influencers are often just promoting goods or places in return for products or fees and such coverage is devoid of ideas and unbiased opinions”. According to Susan, this genre of writing could “never be called journalism”. “I am sure that bubble will burst when people wake up to what it's all about,” she said.
Susan has also noticed that user reviews on sites like Trip Advisor continue to be part of the travel media mix. “It's always good to read the comments to see what travellers like and dislike, especially in hotels”, she said.
Travel journalism isn’t always what it seems
To many, travel journalism seems like a glamorous gig at first glance. And Susan has certainly had her fair share of fun; she recommends adding a night at a converted palace hotel in India and a Nile cruise through Egypt to anyone’s travel bucket list.
But, just like any form of journalism, travel writing comes with its challenges, stresses, and hard deadlines. Susan said while, to an outsider, it may seem like she takes holidays for a living, “it’s as difficult and demanding as any specialist reporting round”, and can often be tiring and lonely. She recalled one particularly stressful job where she was “detained” in China after taking a photo of a military installation she had mistaken for thought was an “oddly designed hotel”.
Susan said her fondest travel memories come from the relationships she has made along the way. “I’ve visited India more than any other country, and have made many friends there”, she said. For Susan, travel allows people to open their eyes and become more tolerant of others.
She was once comforted by a Buddhist nun after finding herself stranded in an Indian airport for 20 hours during a violent storm. “She knew I was anxious and angry”, Susan said. The nun calmly whispered, “it’s not what you’ll remember on your death bed”, and Susan still likes to think of that phrase as her travelling mantra.
Susan has had a long career in the travel industry and strongly believes there will always be a need for reputable travel journalism for people to rely on. She also says the demand for travel reporting is unlikely to disappear. “Tourism is one of the world’s biggest industries, so I think it will always need to be reported extensively and professionally in the mainstream publications”, Susan said.
Susan's top travel tip
“The old adage still applies about laying out the clothes and belongings you think you’ll need and then editing to at least half”, she said.
Susan lists her travel essentials as a waterproof jacket, walking shoes, and a first-aid kit, regardless of the destination or season.