Lonely Planet, the iconic travel guide publisher, is undergoing a transformation to remain relevant in the ever-changing digital world. The new style aims to provide travel inspiration and advice that still fits in the traditional book format. The revamped guides will include QR codes for quick connections, sustainable travel suggestions, alternatives to crowded destinations, and new section layouts, among other changes. The guides will open with a “Plan Your Trip” section, feature listings and information chapters, a ‘Toolkit’ on basics like currencies, visas, and travel health, and finish with ‘The Storybook’ – a series of essays by diverse local voices.
Chris Zeiher, the senior director for trade sales and marketing at Lonely Planet, says, “Lonely Planet may be 50, but we are still guided by the same restless spirit and desire to shape and inspire travel.”
Lonely Planet was first published in 1973 by Maureen and Tony Wheeler with their self-published book, “Across Asia on the Cheap.” At that time, the world was a different place. There was no Google, Ryanair, or Instagram. Travel snaps were taken with film cameras, and backpackers often carried travellers’ cheques in their money belts. There was no TripAdvisor to consult or Kindles to carry. Lonely Planet guides became the bibles for intrepid travelers looking to navigate unfamiliar territories. Brands like Rough Guide, Bradt, and Frommers also gained popularity, but Lonely Planet remained the pack leader, selling approximately 150 million copies of its guidebooks to date.
Tom Hoban, of Dublin-based independent online bookseller LitVox, highlights the revolutionary concept of travel guides. He says, “They are not assembled by one author, but rather a team of travelers who know each destination intimately. Bringing a Lonely Planet with you is akin to meeting a welcoming committee on arrival, a dedicated crew who want to let you know about each hidden treasure trove, every historical landmark, every cool bar, every happening restaurant, and dazzling festival.”
While Lonely Planet helped democratize travel, it also faced criticism for contributing to overtourism and changing small communities forever. The brand was sold to the BBC in 2007 for £130 million before being sold again at a reported loss. The rise of digital publishing took its toll on the company. However, despite the challenges, the Lonely Planet brand remains widely recognized and trusted. It is currently owned by American conglomerate Red Ventures, which claims that Lonely Planet continues to reach hundreds of millions of travelers every year through its print, digital, and social media channels.
Lonely Planet now faces competition from AI travel planning platforms such as GuideGeek, created by rival publisher Matador Network. The New York Times also reported the rise of AI-generated travel guidebooks with deceptive reviews flooding online marketplaces. Nevertheless, Lonely Planet’s new guides aim to remain the travelers’ best friend in an ever-changing digital world.
Tom Hoban from LitVox believes there is still an appetite for traditional travel guidebooks. LitVox sells book bundles of novels, non-fiction titles, and travel guides, and physical travel guide sales remain strong, even among people in their 20s. In a world dominated by bot-led restaurant reviews and influencer-style travel blogs, reliability and real know-how still hold value, and Lonely Planet has always guaranteed these qualities. As Hoban says, “It’s hard to kill an exceptional idea, no matter how much technology strives to replace it.”