Is the Lonely Planet Dead? We Question the Future of the Travel Guidebook…

Old guide books
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 – 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…
Dave Noakes Bio Pic, with Nikki Scott
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker. At age 23, she left the UK on a solo backpacking trip and never returned. After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine about backpacking in Asia. The rest is history.

Find me: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

18 thoughts on “Is the Lonely Planet Dead? We Question the Future of the Travel Guidebook…”

  1. LP were slow to adapt to digital. I went to New York in 2013 and was surprised they didn’t have an app. That said, when I go back to Asia now, I still dig out my books from when I was backpacking.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. Theyve been offering ebook versions of guidebooks for ages. They are just a dog to navigate through.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Everything’s online now innit and therefore better because its free!! Everybody has a phone or a screen and if they dont, they can use one in a cafe or a bar or by borrowing! The guidebook isnt dead though because some people are scared to take expensive things in their backpacks!

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