Lonely Planet Guides have been around for over 40 years now and are steadily decreasing in their appeal. Also for the past 10 years Lonely Planet has been owned by large publishing companies and this diminishes the ideal that Lonely Planet is a small publisher that is looking out for the independent traveller and destroys the perception of impartiality in the recommendations that they put forward.
Also Lonely Planet was late to the online party and a lot of the market that they inhabit has been taken by TripAdvisor and despite having a Social Media following of over 10 million Lonely Planet is an online minnow at this stage.
Despite all these negatives though the Lonely Planet books still have plenty of value but perhaps not in the ways that they once did.
History of Lonely Planet
Lonely Planet was founded by Tony and Maureen Wheeler in 1974 where they documented their journey from London to Australia and wrote their first guide Asia on a Shoestring. This book gave recommendations on how to travel the popular London to Kathmandu overland route and then further on to Australia.
I remember reading another of their first books South Pacific on a Shoestring in my school library, one of the first catalysts to see me travel myself. The idea of island hopping on tender boats filled my imagination and a lust for travel.
Through the 80’s other titles were added and the business grew, writers were employed and reading Tony Wheelers autobiography Once While Travelling you got the feeling that the larger the business got the less enthusiasm he had for the business side of it. Of course, the money was the compensation.
In 2007 BBC Worldwide bought a 75% stake in the business and vowed to increase the online offering and the Wheeler’s spent more time with philanthropic pursuits.
In 2013 Lonely Planet was sold to NC2 media an American publishing company.
Lonely Planet Legacy
Despite forays into Television and Magazines the Guidebooks are Lonely Planet’s principle offering. A number of times when I was travelling through Asia blogging – over 10 years ago I was asked multiple times if I was a Lonely Planet writer – which I wasn’t. After talking to these hotel owners, getting an entry into Lonely Planet was seen as a pathway to riches – and I’d say it probably was.
This I’m sure may have led to some questionable behaviour from some of Lonely Planet’s travelling writers because I never followed Lonely Planet hotel recommendations. The reason was I found them quite unreliable or an owner had a listing and stopped spending money on the property because they has an endless stream of Lonely Planet customers.
This is where the guidebook is not as useful as the internet – things change and Lonely Planet always print this in the books. Now also we find the TripAdvisor is being gamed and its listing may not be as reliable as we’d like.
My attraction to Lonely Planet guidebooks is with planning my trip. All the information in a Lonely Planet book can be found somewhere on the Internet but generally not all in one place. So if you are planning a route through a country you can find information about the trains on seat61 but you won’t get a good destination guide.
Reading a Lonely Planet will give you a great idea about what places you should see in a country and then use the internet to find the more detailed information like train routes and accommodation options. When I started travelling the internet hadn’t been invented and the abundance of information now makes it so easy for travellers, however don’t overlook the humble Lonely Planet guide for trip planning.