As the travel publisher closes its Melbourne and London offices, a guidebook writer asks whats next for an industry in crisis

Covid-19 has changed everything. In particular, it has changed everything about travel. As a Lonely Planet writer you learn fast that change is the only constant on the road. Still, no one was expecting the changes announced last week: that Lonely Planet is to close its Melbourne production facility and London offices almost entirely, as well as its magazine and Trade and Reference division. The famous guidebooks will continue to be published through the companys Dublin and Tennessee offices, but they will also face some job cuts.

As travel has outpaced the growth of the global economy for the last eight years, Lonely Planet has grown to become the worlds largest travel publisher, accounting for 31.5% of the global guidebook market. But with planes grounded, borders closed and people quarantined, where travel is headed next is anyones guess. [Its] a sad and difficult day for all of us in the Lonely Planet family, wrote managing director of publishing, Piers Pickard.

Reading the Lonely Planet guide to Malta. Photograph: Alamy

Certainly, the closure of Lonely Planets original headquarters in Melbourne is the end of an era. It was in Melbourne that co-founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler set up shop in 1973 after finishing their epic overland journey from London across Asia to Australia. They published an account of the journey in Across Asia on the Cheap, a stapled together volume featuring hand-drawn maps and the nowfamous logo, designed by Tony. It sold 1,500 copies. Encouraged by its success, the Wheelers followed with guides to Nepal, Africa, New Zealand and New Guinea.

In 1977s Africa on the Cheap, readers were advised to enjoy the Bonadir weavers and old mosques of Mogadishu, while a guide to the Middle East offered advice on hitch-hiking to Baghdad from Syria. But, it was the success of the 1981 India guide that put Lonely Planet in the backpacks of many young traveller hungry for foreign experiences.

The success of the 1981 India guide was a game-changer for Lonely Planet. Photograph: Amazon

I remain proud of what Lonely Planet achieved, says Tony Wheeler. Im always delighted when people say, I wouldnt have gone there if LP hadnt have given me a push, showed me the way.

Ryan Ver Berkmoes, the veteran writer, one-time Lonely Plant publisher and author of 130 guidebooks, describes the company under Tony and Maureen, as the friend you wanted next to you at the bar in the country youd just landed in. Full of smart, savvy advice so you could start having a great trip. It was a rollicking and amazing place where you made friends worldwide.

I signed up in 1999 to research Ethiopia and as with millions of other travellers subsequent Lonely Planet trips provided foundational life experiences. I healed a broken heart researching the desert landscapes of Namibia. Years in Italy taught me to appreciate lifes simple pleasures. When my mother died, my grieving father joined me in Sicily. A working-class man who never travelled for pleasure, he was consoled by the cavalcade of treasures we saw. Last week, a friend phoned from Benghazi, Libya, to enquire about my health and safety a poignant irony given that he now lives in a city run by militias.

While part of the companys mission was undoubtedly to introduce readers to offbeat or struggling nations, Ver Berkmoes emphasises the role Lonely Planet played in popularising travel in peoples lives. It wasnt just places like Libya, Burma (Myanmar) or Timor-Leste, there were few mainstream, widely available guidebooks for much of the planet he explains. Lonely Planet helped take the foreign out of foreign travel.

The company has also been a technology pioneer. There was a Lonely Planet blog in 1994, five years before the word blog was coined. A website followed, along with CitySync guidebooks on PalmPilots. Most innovative of all was the online travellers forum, Thorn Tree, launched in 1996. According to Jane Rawson, one of its first moderators: A tiny web team was set up and told to figure out what the internet was and whether it was useful to travellers. In 2016, Lonely Planets online community topped 10 million. Social media, it turns out, was kind of a big thing.

Gagliano Castelferrato in Sicily: When my mother died, my grieving father joined me in Sicily and was consoled by the cavalcade of treasures we saw. Photograph: Jan Wlodarczyk/Alamy

But there has been upheaval and concern, too, including two company sales, first to the BBC in 2007 for 130m, then to US-based NC2 media in 2013 at the much-reduced price of 51.5m. Challenged by tough market conditions (guidebook sales fell 40% between 2007 and 2012, but have since recovered 27%) and online firms, such as Expedia, TripAdvisor and Google, the company sought to diversify into a multimedia business with TV, magazines, mobile apps, a blogging platform and e-commerce partnerships. Yet, through all this, Lonely Planet continues to finance multi-week research trips to update its guidebooks, and is now the only publisher that does so.

In many ways, the companys fortunes mirror the evolution of mass tourism. In 1973, the year Lonely Planet was founded, the US budget airline Southwest turned its first profit and showed the reliability of low-cost air travel. Since then, tourism has increased as travel has become more accessible. In 2017, the UN World Tourism Organization estimated that the world might see 1.8 billion travellers by 2030. That was before Covid-19. Now, even Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou of easyJet, the second largest budget airline in Europe, thinks his company will feel like a startup again once national lockdowns are lifted.

Asked where travel will go now, Tony Wheeler says: I dont think the current crisis is going to end the role of the traditional guidebook whether its in print or digital. Ive already got the new LP guidebooks for travels I had intended to make later this year.

Ver Berkmoes also believes guidebooks will endure: Once we start travelling again so many old faces and brands will be gone. People will need that friend next to them in the bar with loads of smart advice.

He should know, as during his time at Lonely Planet he weathered two catastrophes that ravaged the travel industry the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which devastated large parts of Asia. The 9/11 attacks had a profound effect on the company. People stopped travelling and bookshops returned all their guidebooks, says Ver Berkmoes. The company lost dozens of talented people. It was wrenching for everyone. But travel did come back and so did Lonely Planet.

In contrast, the tsunami galvanised the company to help in a huge humanitarian effort. The Wheelers donated relief funds and significant resources were deployed to assist where possible. We had people on the ground in all the most affected areas and we scouted for projects that would make a difference, says Ver Berkmoes. There was a comprehensive part of the website that answered practical questions such as: how can I help? where should I travel? how do I get home?

They are the same questions that many people are asking now, which is why the companys commitment to its guidebooks is reassuring. If the future of travel looks more like the past fewer trips with logistical challenges that are more carefully considered given new risks and uncertainty then trustworthy travel information will be of great value. As I write, there are Lonely Planet writers emerging from lockdown in Beijing. They have a view of the road ahead.

Read more:


  1. Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this website.
    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s challenging to get that “perfect balance” between usability and visual appeal.

    I must say you’ve done a superb job with this.
    Also, the blog loads very fast for me on Safari.
    Outstanding Blog!

  2. Good day very cool web site!! Guy .. Beautiful ..
    Superb .. I will bookmark your website and take the feeds additionally?
    I’m happy to find so many useful information right here within the put up, we need develop extra strategies on this regard, thanks
    for sharing. . . . . .

  3. First of all I want to say fantastic blog! I had a
    quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear
    your head before writing. I have had a hard time clearing my
    thoughts in getting my ideas out. I do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually
    wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints?
    Thank you!

  4. It’s the best time to make some plans for the future and it’s time
    to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I want to suggest you
    few interesting things or suggestions. Maybe
    you can write next articles referring to this article.
    I desire to read even more things about it!

  5. Admiring the hard work you put into your site and in depth information you
    provide. It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same outdated rehashed information. Excellent read!
    I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  6. I got this website from my pal who told me about this web site
    and at the moment this time I am browsing this site and reading very informative posts at this time.

  7. Appreciating the dedication you put into your website
    and detailed information you offer. It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same outdated rehashed information. Great read!
    I’ve saved your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  8. Amazing blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress
    or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that
    I’m totally overwhelmed .. Any ideas? Appreciate it!

  9. Great work! That is the type of information that should be shared around
    the internet. Shame on Google for now not positioning this put up upper!
    Come on over and seek advice from my website . Thanks =)

  10. Do you have a spam problem on this site; I also am a blogger, and I was curious about your situation; we have created some nice practices
    and we are looking to exchange strategies with other folks, please shoot
    me an email if interested.

  11. Taxi moto line
    128 Rue la Boétie
    75008 Paris
    +33 6 51 612 712  

    Taxi moto paris

    Hello! I’ve been following your website for a long time
    now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Kingwood Texas!

    Just wanted to tell you keep up the great work!

  12. Woah! I’m really loving the template/theme of this
    site. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very difficult
    to get that “perfect balance” between superb usability and visual
    appeal. I must say that you’ve done a excellent job with this.

    In addition, the blog loads super fast for me
    on Chrome. Superb Blog!

  13. One other thing I would like to state is that instead of trying to fit all your online degree courses on times that you conclude work (since most people are exhausted when they return home), try to have most of your lessons on the saturdays and sundays and only a couple courses for weekdays, even if it means a little time away from your saturday and sunday. This is really good because on the weekends, you will be a lot more rested along with concentrated upon school work. Thanks alot : ) for the different points I have acquired from your site.

  14. It’s perfect time to make some plans for the future and
    it’s time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could I want to suggest you some interesting
    things or tips. Perhaps you can write next articles referring to
    this article. I wish to read even more things about it!

  15. I like what you guys are usually up too. This sort of clever work
    and reporting! Keep up the terrific works guys I’ve added you guys to my own blogroll.

  16. I will right away grab your rss as I can’t to find your
    e-mail subscription hyperlink or newsletter service.
    Do you have any? Kindly let me understand in order that I may just
    subscribe. Thanks.

  17. Howdy! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website with us so I came to take a
    look. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking
    and will be tweeting this to my followers! Outstanding blog and great design and style.

  18. I just couldn’t leave your site prior to suggesting that I actually enjoyed the usual
    info an individual supply for your guests? Is going
    to be again regularly to check up on new posts

  19. 우리카지노
    While the slots are probably the very best in quality and provide the very best chance of striking a huge jackpot, it’s the other games on offer that really stand out. Blackjack and baccarat will be two of the video games that offer the best odds of receiving and this combined with the graphics and sound options really help the ball player to feel relaxed while playing. One of the games the fact that King presents with the best high quality visuals and superb sound effects may be the game known as “Rush”. Rush was created to simulate the enjoyment and experience of playing a genuine baccarat or blackjack sport. The graphics are so realistic that they make the game seem as though it was basically going to happen in real life.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here