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

  1. Iain says:

    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. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Tarly Marr says:

    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!

  7. Balthazar Brey says:

    To be honest, I just trade in my used guidebook for a used one in the country I am traveling in before I head to the next country…

  8. Carrie Jeanne says:

    I like LP’s digital content – but I prefer Rough Guides for books because they tend to focus less on the nitty gritty (open times/cost) which are out of date by the time its printed – and more on the historical/cultural context of sites – and making you *want* to visit those sites.

  9. 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.

  10. Randy Slocum says:

    I like the lonely planet for a couple of reasons. Reasonably good maps and basic ideas on direction and cool places. but its become too unwieldy and could provide the same info in a much smaller format. but you can’t beat the map in the hand when you are lost in a new city.

  11. Clara Rum says:

    I think you should prepare your trip with a mixture of analogue and digital contents, which means: 1 good guide book + a few online blogs and travel-sites – that´s it!
    I used to take the book with me on the road, filled with a couple handwritten notes I copied down from the internet and I always was perfectly fine with that.
    Travel guides in general are supposed to give only a rough path through the country, like info about ferries, where to shop and maybe even where to sleep, if you don´t want to walk around searching for a cheap and comfy bed – they shouldn´t be seen as the ultimate guideline!
    Just let the book guide you, to where you want to go and if you´re there – follow your eyes, heart or simply other travellers and locals!

  12. Dylan Edwards says:

    And my post didn’t answer your question at all…. Yes the guidebook is dying out, but I think it will be replaced by the REAL guide “book.” Digital content provided by real people on the ground.

  13. Dylan Edwards says:

    It’s a mixed bag really. I love lonely planet guides because they have so much info packed into their books. On the flip-side, the “on the ground” info is out of date way before the books are published. I think the information they provide is totally worthwhile. This is info from people on the ground as it happens. Unfortunately, it takes a long time for that info to be published, and by then things have already changed again. As long as you don’t focus on things like “$$$” you’ll be ok. Just read the reviews and forget the prices given

  14. Sébastien Dion Côté says:

    It’s hard for me to find something interesting in those guidebooks, I mean where to eat, where to sleep, what to do, you can figure it out when you’re there. I need to know how to get to the bus station, and that kind of stuff…

  15. Jo Prado says:

    Good bye guidebook, hello online apps, blogs and forums. I am currently travelling and my Australia lonely planet weighed me down for a long time until I decided to ditch the massive book and seek advice from others and my iPhone app. There is no place in a small back for a massive books.

  16. Juan Pieterse says:

    Guidebooks are becoming obsolete as travellers tend to read online blogs etc to get more recent information, mostly for free. Case in point: I found the info on YOUR fb page and website more usefull than something written in an old copy of Lonely Planet.

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