I was in Thailand and was eager to get started. Buying that guidebook made my impulsive decision seem real. Thumbing through its pages on my flight home, I was hooked.
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I loved its emphasis on budget travel and backpacking, the offbeat destinations, and its quirky and funny writing. Their personality matched mine and I was hooked. For good or ill, Lonely Planet often made destinations, hostels, and restaurants. Sure, its guides became synonymous with mass tourism, but for me, they were a great resource to thumb over while on a bus or train, or in a hostel.
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I navigated with LP maps and used LP guides for basic activity information and to figure out transportation. But, lately, their quality seems to have gone down a lot. After being sold to BBC in and then sold again to a reclusive billionaire named Brad Kelley in , Lonely Planet is a shell of what it used to be. I kinda go with my gut. As I sat down to write this article, I asked readers on social media what they thought of Lonely Planet. While most people still used Lonely Planet and guidebooks in general for preplanning, they reiterated what I kept hearing on the road: the books seem to get more out of date, the writing has lost its edge, the guides have gotten more upscale and less about offbeat and budget destinations, the website is hard to use, and blogs are often better.
Clearly, the market has a different opinion about the guides than management. But guidebooks are not content companies, they are curated resources from experts. Whether app, e-book, or paperback, consumers want a trusted source of information. We want someone to cut through the noise for us. Yet that was in The current problems are owned by the current management. Their desire to turn Lonely Planet into a content company is a terrible decision that is out of touch with what travelers want. The decision to ignore market research and go with their gut explains much of the decline and why the books are a shell of what they used to be.
When the company was last bought, most of the old execs were fired, bought out, or driven out.
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In their place was installed a management team with little knowledge of the industry they were now in. Multiple sources reached out to me for this article to describe their experiences with Lonely Planet since the buyout. LP has this giant content management system, where the author submits their research and, from that, they make the guidebook.
So, in the end, you get this disorganized — and often wrong — book. They have a lot to do and little time to do it in — plus, the pay is terrible. And this decline can be very clearly seen on the LP website. After Houghton first took over, the website looked like this:. I mean, what is this? Who thought this was good? It would take me ages to find the square I needed. Often I gave up and simply found a blog instead. Now, while I like many things about the new Lonely Planet website — the larger pictures and bigger font — the content sections are hard to follow, and navigating the website is just as difficult as ever.
I was trying to find information when I was in Lyon recently — and it was just scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. They list like every place in the city — every church, attraction, park, or restaurant. They do it for all their destinations. Distill the information down for me!
Plus, the information is so hard to find now. It was easy to get to where you wanted to go, there were no endless lists, and they gave you the facts you needed. It had what you wanted. In the new version, you scroll, scroll, and keep scrolling. And the descriptions of attractions, restaurants, and bars are even less useful than what Google or Yelp offers. With bowler and flat-top hats as lampshades and a s speakeasy New York air to the place, this cocktail club — run by the same mega-successful team as Experimental Cocktail Club ECC — is very Parisian-cool.
These sites were better organized, gave me a curated list of places, and provided more detailed descriptions. Additionally, the heavy emphasis on selling tours to destinations seems to go against the grain of independent travel that the company was founded on.
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You can tell the company has changed simply by what they focus their online content on. Those are great for inspiration, but not on-the-ground information. By losing that focus, trying in my opinion to appeal to everyone, and attempting to compete with sites like TripAdvisor and even blogs to an extent , LP has lost what made it great. I believe companies are better off when they have one thing they focus on. Lonely Planet should be a guidebook company. You used to know what the Lonely Planet brand meant and what they stood for.
LP still is king because of its sheer size. It is the Microsoft of guidebook companies.
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Not one person I talked to had any loyalty to the brand anymore. They often bought the guides simply because there was no one else selling one to their destination. Their guidebooks are all over this website. I still buy them.
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They are often the only game in town to where I want to go. Hopefully, this will eventually lead to the company getting back to its roots. Want to share your tips and advice? Got questions? Visit the community forum to ask questions, get answers, meet people, and share your tips! Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase.
I recommend only products and companies I use and the income goes to keeping the site community supported and ad free. As guides book go, for me, Rough Guides is a much better option.
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I prefer the style much better. But the real disappointment is that there are little to no budget accommodation recommendations for many places. The list of places to stay was short, but it seemed to be written by people who understand something of the culture. There is an excellent historical overview in the back, for those so inclined.
By that I mean you are now not only an experienced traveller but a travel industry leader. I remember getting off that plane in Panama City for the first time and being petrified.