As Lonely Planet are sold for a massive loss, we question the future of the travel guidebook…

As Lonely Planet are sold for a massive loss, we question the future of the travel guidebook…

With Lonely Planet being sold by the BBC this week for a shocking £55 million loss, does this put the future of guidebooks into question? This happens in the same week that we hear Frommers guidebooks, born in 1957 with the groundbreaking ‘Europe on 5 dollars a day’, announce the decision that they will publish no more titles.

The story of Tony and Maureen Wheeler and the creation of the Lonely Planet brand in the early 1970’s is an inspiring one.

Travelling overland from the UK to Australia and ending up in Sydney with around 23 cents between them, they pondered selling their typewriter to make ends meet. Tony said, “I bet we could write a book.” And Lonely Planet was born. Since selling 1500 copies of their first book ‘Across Asia on the Cheap’, times have sure changed.

The travel industry is now dominated by digital information such as accommodation and tour booking websites, for example Hostel Bookers, review sites such as Trip Advisor and social networking sites such as TravBuddy (and our very own travel forum) – which are ways for people to make friends and share information before they travel.

Once the ultimate Bible for travellers as little as five years ago, you couldn’t walk down the Khao San Road without seeing tons of backpackers with a copy glued to their hand. Hotels would place huge signs outside to attract travellers saying ‘Lonely Planet Recommended’ – knowing that this accreditation could sway a backpackers decision enormously. Knowing people who would literally not stay in a hotel or go on a tour if it had not been recommended by the Lonely Planet – you can imagine the impact that this global institution had on the tourist industry – particularly damaging or advantageous, depending on the review, for small and new businesses.

But is this still the case? Do travellers rely on guidebooks like the Lonely Planet and Rough Guides anymore? Or do they download apps and research online before they go – or even stay connected via WIFI to digital magazines / Twitter / Facebook and wikitravel as they backpack in the actual countries? In South East Asia you can certainly spot the changes – backpackers sit in hostels with ipads and iphones staying connected – and hotels now have signs saying ‘Trip Advisor Best Trip!’ in tribute to the referral power of web 2.0.

Grubby, well thumbed guide books remain on the shelves in the second hand book shops for 200 baht – and I can’t help but think that they just don’t have the same kudos as they once did. After all, as they are only be updated every 2-3 years – how can they stay on the pulse in an ever-changing, dynamic travel industry? How can they possible compete?

David Houghton, the Chairman of NC2, the Nashville company who have just bought the Lonely Planet brand comments: “The challenge before us is to marry the world’s greatest travel information and guidebook company with the limitless potential of 21st century digital technology. If we can do this, we can build a business that, while remaining true to the things that made Lonely Planet great in the past, promises to make it even greater in the future.”

So what do you think?  What is the future of Lonely Planet and the travel guidebook in general? Is there still a place for the guidebook when you are planning your trip? Tell us your thoughts…

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9 Comments For This Post We’d Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Kyle says:

    I’m quite capable with the internet, but having a paperback guidebook without a hidden agenda, is much too convenient than carrying an ipad.

  2. Adam says:

    Travelling around s.e.a. at moment with four heavy guidebooks including lp’s sea on shoestring bible, and to be honest they are out of date or describe places in ways we totally disagree with (for ‘vibrant’ read polluted busy boring; for ‘charming and sleepy’ usually read empty and dead). The travel info often still is accurate but accommodation is always inaccurate; things do change too quickly now, with ownership and prices changing all the time. However is remains a nice experience to leaf through rather than slowly going mad staring at trip advisor reviews. Hope the new owners of lp finally upgrade the rubbish accommodation and maps online and make it a subscriber site only and save on paper.

  3. leandro says:

    Lonely Plan is ok for some general information about a country, but its up-to-date information (such as hotel prices, etc.) is way too out of date. More importantly, I can’t stand reading their nauseating writing style (give me facts not snarky tone and color commentary that is frequently incorrect and uninformed yet comes across as pompous and authoritative).

    I have been travelling around the world for a year and WikiVoyage/WikiTravel is my favorite source of local information, along with Couchsurfing city groups. Who would you rather get a recommendation from, actual travelers, locals, and expats or a guidebook that sends every tourist to the exact same location. I hope they choose to shut down LP altogether. It is not only anachronistic, it has damaged travel by dumping too many people in the same spot.

  4. Jaymes says:

    We just completed an 18 month around the world trip through 19 countries and 4 continents. We relied on TripAdvisor’s much fresher reviews and better descriptions for most of our rooms and restaurants, as well Wikitravel’s (often outdated) info we’d downloaded to my iPhone. Not to mention that anything listed in an LP or Frommer’s Guide is almost always priced 100 percent more than when they were recommended due to their new popularity.

    We found we were rarely using the Lonely Planet books we’d originally brought with us; we ended up giving them to other travelers and saving quite a bit of weight in our backpacks. Unless LP starts offering a similar (and better) online experience or ebooks, they probably don’t stand much of a chance against the app guides. I’m sure the tens of thousands of counterfeit copies of Lonely Planet books seen on the streets of the most popular places didn’t help them, either.

  5. Peter Camus says:

    Even up to five years ago Lonely Planet guides were virtually indispensable. The change to fancy colour was accompanied by very poorly written and out of date information. I hope the new owners will look long and hard at what the tourist actually needs, not what they think that we need.

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