Amid global travel restrictions and under a new parent company, Lonely Planet spent 2021 retooling. Digital media platform Red Ventures acquired Lonely Planet from NC2 Media in December 2020, leaving many in the industry wondering how Lonely Planet’s print program and other content offerings would fare.
Known for its pocket-size destination guides and phrasebooks, Lonely Planet already had expanded its digital presence in the adult market while continuing to publish Lonely Planet Kids titles and coffee-table volumes. When the pandemic grounded national and international travel, “we had to make some tough decisions,” said publisher Piers Pickard, who has been with Lonely Planet since 2006. “We became a much smaller company.”
Pickard acknowledged that the pandemic led to a difficult period and called the Red Ventures acquisition “lucky”: “I want to underline how incredibly fortunate we’ve been to be acquired as a travel publisher in this once-in-a-century event,” he noted.
A sign of Lonely Planet’s new direction came in October, when Red Ventures announced the appointment of Nitya Chambers as the company’s senior v-p of content and executive editor. Chambers, a former v-p of digital content at CNN, moved to Lonely Planet after working on a variety of franchises, including CNN Travel and Parts Unknown.
Chambers said she brings a mindset of “content as utility.” Lonely Planet’s “service content is highly tactical, highly inspirational,” she added. “We intend to superserve Lonely Planet’s customers by building content strengths for our modern digital landscape.”
An example is HealthHub, a partnership between Lonely Planet and another Red Ventures property, Healthline Media. HealthHub, a web-only resource for travel planning, gives health and safety guidance on border restrictions, Covid-testing rules, and mask mandates. The free online directory presently covers 20 countries, and “will help and empower travelers as they reengage with exploring the world respectfully and safely,” Chambers said. While there is no HealthHub print component, “we are always thinking about how to create topical connections in our print products to news-based content,” she noted.
“We are taking what Lonely Planet has done so well with its books for 48-odd years and giving people that same experience in a digital format,” Pickard said. He also promised strong engagement with the print format. “We had a few months off and we didn’t publish any guides. The world is opening back up, and since September, we’ve moved to publishing international guides again.”
As part of the strategy Lonely Planet will re-release its top 200 bestselling guidebooks through 2022. In addition, on November 30, it will publish the $50 The Travel Book (fourth edition) as well as The Armchair Explorer, a paperback celebrating the popular books, movies, and music of 120 countries.
“On top of that, we will launch a new series, the Experience Guides, in March,” Pickard said. “They are slightly bigger than our pocket guides, and shorter than our loose-bound guides—they come in at 240–260 pages.” They offer “selective recommendations” from broadcast journalists, podcasters, and other writers “100% local” to the sites they cover.
The Experience Guides will direct readers to “authentic local experiences,” such as a decommissioned railway turned arts venue in Paris. “We wanted to have surprises in there, because there is so much travel content around,” Pickard explained.
Despite the advantages digital applications can bring to travel, in some situations “the book is better,” Pickard said. “We’re really looking for un-googleable experiences. Books carry your memories, your emotions, your identity.”
Chambers added, “For me, it’s really thinking about meeting the moment for our consumers. As Piers said, books are an emotional touchpoint and serve a specific purpose. Piers and I are very close collaborators, thinking about what that future looks like together.”
Pickard said, “2023 will be our 50th birthday, and we are very focused on that already. We’re really excited. As travel comes back, it’s going to feel like a blank slate.”
Nathalie op de Beeck is a writer, educator, and picture book enthusiast in the Pacific Northwest.