Lonely Planet

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Lonely Planet Publications (usually known as Lonely Planet or LP for short), claims to be the largest independently-owned travel guidebook publisher in the world. It is probably the most popular series of travel books among backpackers and other low-cost travelers, due to its history of serving this market. As of 2004, it published about 650 titles in 118 countries with annual sales of more than six million guidebooks, about a quarter of all English-language guidebooks.

Lonely Planet is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia.



Lonely Planet's first book, Across Asia on the Cheap, was written and published by Tony Wheeler, a former engineer at Chrysler Corp., and his wife Maureen Wheeler in Sydney in 1973, following a lengthy jaunt across the continent. Written with panache and full of strong opinions, it sold well enough in Australia that it allowed the couple to expand it into South-East Asia on a shoestring, which remains one of the company's biggest sellers.

Lonely Planet's first books catered to young people from Australasia and Europe (mainly the UK) undertaking the overland hippie trail between Australia and Europe, via South-East Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East. This was becoming something of a rite of passage for young travellers, especially Australasians, who spent many months (or years) on the journey.

Tourist facilities were limited in most of the countries en route, and low-budget tourism was unheard of. This was the first (relatively) large-scale influx of first-worlders who took local buses in Thailand, ate at street stalls in India, or stayed with villagers in Afghanistan. The tips and hints provided by a Lonely Planet's guidebooks were seen as essential to avoid problems and danger.

This co-incidence of a new and rapidly growing market and a guidebook company apparently catering exclusively to the traveller community (the term backpacker developed later) meant that Lonely Planet's readers developed a word-of-mouth affection for the company and its products. Reader feedback played an important part in keeping the books updated. Lonely Planet benefited from the Wheelers' skills as writers, publishers and businesspeople.

The company name comes from a misheard line in "Space Captain," a song by Joe Cocker and Leon Russell. The actual words are "lovely planet" but Tony Wheeler heard "lonely planet" and liked it.

Tony and Maureen Wheeler still own majority shares in the company but no longer have hands-on roles.

Recent developments

The books' voice has changed over the years as it has entered markets, such as western Europe, where many guidebooks exist. As of 2005, the Wheelers no longer control the operation or make decisions about guidebooks, although they still own a majority of the company.

The increasing professionalism of the management and the attempt to break into the massive US market (relatively conservative and prone to litigation) have meant that the quirky, amateur (in the best sense) tone of the books has diminished. For example, an early edition of Africa on a shoestring has the heading 'Drugs', which includes information on purchasing drugs (mainly marijuana). This would not be permitted in a Lonely Planet guidebook these days.

Lonely Planet's initial strength of owning a market has subsequently caused some problems. Even today many people equate Lonely Planet with backpackers. The company has been attempting to broaden its appeal for many years. The 30th-anniversary relaunch of its various series was intended to make clearer the split between the backpacker-only products and those (now the majority) aimed at more bourgeois travellers and tourists.

Like many companies, Lonely Planet has emphasized the web. In particular, its Thorn Tree web forum has proven a popular place to trade tips and advice, contributing to the brand's identity.

See also

  • Tourism
  • The television series Globe Trekker (also known as Pilot Guides) was inspired by and originally broadcast under the name Lonely Planet

External links

de:Lonely Planet


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