Lonely Planet guides have been a faithful companion to scores of backpackers over the years. Even in the digital age, a guide by Lonely Planet or one of their rivals, features prominently on most travelers packing list.
More than three decades on from the first edition of South East Asia on a Shoestring and the basic format of the Lonely Planet guide has remained largely intact (with a few tweaks). But its publishers are changing – last year founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler sold the company to the BBC, though Lonely Planet’s HQ remains here in Melbourne.
Last week, I was privileged to get the chance to get a look inside of Lonely Planet’s Footscray offices to find out more about the company’s latest projects. My guide Matthew, from Lonely Planet’s digital division, has recently exchanged rainy London for Melbourne and is working on lots of exciting initiatives following the BBC’s purchase of the company.
One of the BBC’s main tasks for Lonely Planet is to get the company up to speed with the digital world. Compared to its rivals, Lonely Planet’s website seems slick and comprehensive with the popular Thorn Tree Forum and other useful resources. But they company recognises that it has not successfully built on this digital advantage and it is lagging behind more mainstream media outlets in an era where digital content is becoming increasingly important.
The guides still make up the bulk of Lonely Planet’s income – around 80% – and the company anticipates that they will continue to be the main money spinner (in fact they are launching a number of new lines of guides as we speak, as well as updates to previous editions).
However, Matthew and his team at LPLabs are looking at ways in which the website can better support Lonely Planet’s core business. The latest version of the website will include a section called BlogSherpa, which brings content from an army of independent travel bloggers to users of Lonely Planet websites.
And Lonely Planet is also looking beyond the website in improving its digital coverage. There is already a series of phrasebooks for palmtop computers and mobiles like the iPhone. We can expect to see many more applications like these to appear over the coming months.
While we are on the subject of applications, I have the Twitter app monitter to thank for putting me in touch with the LPLab team . For those unfamiliar with it, monitter allows you to search tweets to find tweeters in your immediate area. The wonders of technology!