Daniel Houghton (COO)
Gus Balbontin (CTO)Theo Sathananthan (CFO)
|Products||Travel guidebook, digital applications, online community|
|Employees||400 staff, 200 authors|
Lonely Planet is the largest travel guide book publisher in the world. The company was owned by BBC Worldwide, which bought it in 2007 and sold it in 2013 to American billionaire Brad Kelley's NC2 Media for US$75 million (₤51.5 million).
Originally called Lonely Planet Publications, the company changed its name to Lonely Planet in July 2009 to reflect its broad travel industry offering and the emphasis on digital products. After Let's Go Travel Guides, it was one of the first series of travel books aimed at backpackers and other low-cost travellers. As of 2010[update], it publishes about 500 titles in 8 languages, as well as TV programmes, a magazine, mobile phone applications and websites.
The company name comes from a misheard line in "Space Captain", a song written by Matthew Moore and first popularized by Joe Cocker and Leon Russell on the "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" tour in 1970. The actual words are "lovely planet", but Tony Wheeler heard "lonely planet" and liked it.
The Wheelers' first journey and publications
Lonely Planet's first book, Across Asia on the Cheap, was written and published by an Englishman, Tony Wheeler, a former engineer at Chrysler Corp and the University of Warwick and London Business School graduate. He met his wife Maureen in London in 1970. In July 1972, they set off on an overland trip through Europe and Asia, and arrived in Australia in December. The popularity of this overland route, first undertaken by vehicle on the 1955 Oxford-Cambridge Overland Expedition, declined when Iran's borders closed in 1979. Written with strong opinions, it sold well enough in Australia that it allowed the couple to expand it into South-East Asia on a Shoestring (nicknamed the 'Yellow Bible').
Lonely Planet's first books catered to young people from Australia and Europe undertaking the overland hippie trail between Australia and Europe, via South-East Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East. This was becoming something of a rite of passage for young travellers, especially Australians and New Zealanders, who spent months (or years) on the journey.
Tourist facilities were limited in most of the countries en route, and low-budget tourism was rare.
The guidebook series expanded initially in Asia, with the India guidebook, first published in 1981. In the 1990s the company expanded into Europe and North America. The company currently publishes about 500 different titles. In addition to books about most countries in the world, it also publishes a range of specialised thematic guidebooks. The current Lonely Planet range also includes hardback photography books, food guides, city guides, travelogues, diaries and calendars, language guides, walking guides and guides covering an area of interest in more detail, for example a Volunteer Travel guide or a National Park guide.
Over the years, its target audience has expanded from budget-conscious backpackers to include more mainstream and affluent travellers. In 2011, Lonely Planet rolled out their new guidebook format which has been extended to most of the current editions.
Purchase by BBC Worldwide
On 1 October 2007, a 75% stake in the company was purchased by BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, with the Wheelers retaining the other 25%. The Wheelers announced that the sale was made so that they could spend more time travelling. The acquisition, announced by BBC Worldwide CEO John Smith, was part of the BBC's strategy to grow its online portfolio and to increase its operations in Australia and the USA. The BBC Worldwide deal was led by David King, Chief Financial Officer, and Ian Watson, International Director, with advice from Deloitte Corporate Finance and Blake, Dawson Waldron in Australia. On 18 February 2011, BBC acquired the remaining 25% of LP for A$67 million from the Wheelers.
NC2 Media acquisition
On 19 March 2013, the BBC confirmed the sale of Lonely Planet to Kentucky billionaire Brad Kelley's NC2 Media for US$75 million (₤51.5 million)— significantly less than the £130.2 million the BBC had paid for the company, at an £80 million loss.
Following a meeting at the Footscray headquarters on 18 July 2013, CEO Houghton revealed to the media that between 70 and 80 Australian positions would be made redundant from a team that consists of about 250 employees. Houghton confirmed the ongoing existence of a Melbourne-based office, while changes to the company occur during the 6- to 12-month period following the July meeting.
Lonely Planet's online community, the Thorn Tree, was created in 1996. It is used by over 600,000 travelers to share their experiences and look for advice. Thorn Tree has many different forum categories including different countries, places to visit depending on one's interests, travel buddies, and Lonely Planet support. The Lonely Planet website includes travel articles, destination and point of interest guides, hotel, hostel and accommodations listings, and the ability to rate and review sites and restaurants.
Lonely Planet temporarily closed the Thorn Tree community on the 22 December 2012, with a notification stating: "We're sorry to let you know we've found it necessary to temporarily close the Thorn Tree section of Lonelyplanet.com as it has come to our attention that a number of posts do not conform to the standards of the Lonely Planet website. As soon as we have completed the necessary editorial and technical updates we will let you know but in the meantime we are very grateful for your understanding and patience." Later, Lonely Planet clarified the alert to say that it had found numerous posts containing "inappropriate language and themes," and the site would be reopened once these posts were found and deleted. Thorn Tree returned on 5 January 2013, having shut forums they felt were non-travel related. Now, the forum is regulated regularly and allows users to flag responses they deem inappropriate or not relevant.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a disgruntled former user alerted the BBC to numerous posts related to paedophilia. A source close to Lonely Planet management told the Herald that BBC executives still smarting from the Jimmy Savile scandal went into "full freak out, panic attack mode" over posts about the age of consent in Mexico and child prostitution in Thailand. However, a BBC Worldwide spokesman denied there was any evidence of paedophilia discussions on the site. The BBC subsequently stated that the cause of the shutdown wasn't paedophilia, but general concern with language and themes that the BBC was "uncomfortable" with.
The founders, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, have written a book titled Once While Travelling: The Lonely Planet Story (known as Unlikely destinations: The Lonely Planet story in North America) telling how they met and married, how they travelled from London to Australia overland and how Lonely Planet was formed.
A mention in a Lonely Planet guidebook can draw large numbers of travellers, which invariably brings change to places mentioned. For example, Lonely Planet has been blamed for the rise of what is sometimes referred to as 'the Banana Pancake Trail' in South East Asia. Critics argue that this has led to the destruction of local culture and disturbance of once quiet sites. As well, for travelers looking for hostels or places to eat, the ones mentioned are usually at full capacity or super busy. It is often easier to find places to stay at hostels not mentioned in the book. Lonely Planet's view is that it encourages responsible travel, and that its job is to inform people, and that it is up to guidebook users to make their informed choice.
In 1996, in response to a "Visit Myanmar" campaign by the military regime, the Burmese opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for a tourism boycott. As the publication of Lonely Planet's guidebook to Myanmar (Burma) is seen by some as an encouragement to visit that country, this led to calls for a boycott of Lonely Planet. Lonely Planet's view is that it highlights the issues surrounding a visit to the country, and that it wants to make sure that readers make an informed decision. In 2009, the NLD formally dropped its previous stance and now welcomes visitors "who are keen to promote the welfare of the common people".
In 2009, Lonely Planet began publishing a monthly travel magazine called Lonely Planet Traveller in the UK, and in 2010, it launched the Indian and the Argentine editions. Its Korean edition, with a digital edition for iPad, was launched in March 2011. Also, its Chinese version was launched in Mainland China in Aug, 2012.
Lonely Planet also has its own television production company, which has produced numerous series, such as The Sport Traveller, Going Bush, Vintage New Zealand, and Bluelist Australia, along with the following:
- Globe Trekker – television series (also known as Pilot Guides) inspired by and originally broadcast under the name Lonely Planet
- Lonely Planet Six Degrees – hosted by Asha Gill and Toby Amies
- Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled – A co-production between Singapore's Beach House and Lonely Planet Television, airing on the National Geographic Adventure Channel 2009-2010, RLT is a reality-based travel series following nine LP guidebook authors and photographers.
In popular culture
In April 2008, American writer Thomas Kohnstamm published the memoir Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, which touched on his experience writing a guidebook for Lonely Planet in Brazil. After a review of Kohnstamm's guidebooks, publisher Piers Pickard agreed that no inaccuracies had been found.
In 2009, Australian author and former Lonely Planet guidebook writer Mic Looby published a fictional account of the guidebook-writing business, entitled Paradise Updated, in which the travel guide industry is satirised.
- "About Us". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
- Fildes, Nic (2 October 2007). "BBC gives Lonely Planet guides a home in first major acquisition". The Independent. Retrieved 5 March 2011. "Lonely Planet has grown into the world's largest travel guide publisher"
- "BBC selling Lonely Planet to Kentucky cigarette billionaire Brad Kelley". Skift. 4 March 2013. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
- "BBC Worldwide sells Lonely Planet business at £80m loss". BBC News. 19 March 2013. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- Swisher, Kara (12 October 2009). "Lonely Planet Ramps Up Digital Strategy, Names John Boris U.S. Head". kara.allthingsd.com. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
- Wheeler, Tony; Wheeler, Maureen (2007). Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story. Periplus Editions. ISBN 978-0-7946-0523-0.
- "Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd.". fundinguniverse.com. Retrieved 5 March 2011. "[...]and began writing their first travel guide. The effort was truly homespun, a hand-collated, trimmed, and stapled guidebook that was 96 pages long.[...] The 96-page travel book, which eventually became a collector's item, was entitled Across Asia on the Cheap, published in 1973."
- "Asia's overland route". LiveJournal. 20 July 2006. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
- MacLean, Rory (2007). Magic bus: on the hippie trail from Istanbul to India. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-101595-8.
- Steves, Rick (24 November 2007). "Tony Wheeler's "Lonely Planet"". ricksteves.com. Retrieved 24 November 2007.
- "BBC buys Lonely Planet". The Age. 1 October 2007. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
- "BBC Worldwide acquisition of Lonely Planet". BBC. 1 October 2007. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
- "Time to move on say Lonely Planet founders". AdelaideNow. 2 October 2007. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
- "BBC Worldwide acquires Lonely Planet". BBC Worldwide Press Release. BBC Press Office. 1 October 2007. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- "BBC takes last slice of Planet". The Sydney Morning Herald. 20 February 2011. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
- Deborah Gough (18 July 2013). "Tearful Lonely Planet staff fear the worst after American buyout". The Age. Retrieved 22 July 2013.
- "Thorn Tree Travel Forum". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
- Johnson, Andrew. BBC shuts down Thorn Tree travel forum. 2012-12-26
- Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Reopens. 2013-01-07
- Moses, Asher. Lonely Planet shuts Thorn Tree forum 'over paedophilia posts'. Sydney Morning Herald, 2012-12-26.
- Wheeler, Tony; Wheeler, Maureen (2005). Once while travelling: the Lonely Planet story. Periplus Editions. ISBN 978-0-670-02847-4.
- Todhunter, Colin. "Madras and The Lonely Planet People". hackwriters.com. Retrieved 24 August 2010.
- Priestley, Harry (July 2008). "Pictures courtesy of Lonely Planet Publications". chiangmainews.com. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
- "Unions call to boycott Lonely Planet". News Limited. 22 February 2008. Retrieved 24 August 2010.
- Wheeler, Tony; Wheeler, Maureen. "Responsible travel". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 24 August 2010.
- "Kareena & Saif launch Lonely Planet Magazine". Sify Movies. Retrieved 24 August 2010.
- Paris, Eva (13 May 2010). "La revista Lonely Planet estrena edición argentina" (in Spanish). diariodelviajero.co. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
- "Lonely Planet Magazine Korea". Retrieved 14 September 2012.
- "Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled". National Geographic Channel Australia and New Zealand. Retrieved 24 August 2010.
- "Lonely Planet's bad trip". The Daily Telegraph. 13 April 2008. Retrieved 13 April 2008.
- Angela Myer; Elena Gomez (13 October 2009). "Guest review: Elena Gomez on Mic Looby’s Paradise Updated". Crikey Blog. Private Media Pty Ltd. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
- Official website
- "For 20 years nobody even noticed the book" from Daily News & Analysis
- "The Parachute Artist" - a profile of Lonely Planet and the Wheelers from The New Yorker magazine (April 2005)
- "Tony Wheeler" interview by Rick Steves
- Official Twitter