In 2013, BBC sold Lonely Planet to NC2 Media at a loss of 80m GBP. Lonely Planet has the largest guidebook business worldwide, with an estimated annual revenue of 1.3bn USD. Also, as of today Lonely Planet has 14m monthly web visitors and 135k monthly app downloads.
Since 2013, NC2 Media has been re-thinking the business. 2019 appears to be a pivotal year as new leadership, strategy and a few acquisitions and partnerships have emerged. In this article, we illustrate three lessons that other travel media companies can learn from what Lonely Planet has done in 2019.
1. Make Sure the Leaders Understand Technology
In February 2019, a new CEO took the lead of Lonely Planet, Luis Cabrera. He has previous experience in the digital transformation of several corporations, with a career of 20 years in different digital roles. He actually had no background in the media industry. However, his previous role was as a partner at BCG Digital Ventures, a subsidiary of Boston Consulting Group, where he implemented ‘large-scale digital transformation programs’.
At BCG Digital Ventures, as his Linkedin profile says, he was ‘dedicated to inventing, building, investing in and launching category-changing businesses at start-up speed for the world’s most influential companies, ensuring they are fit for the future’.
Here, there is an important distinction for leaders who understand technology. Not just because they can handle a CRM campaign or have led a marketing team in the design of a new website or the implementation of Google Analytics means that they need to be considered techies.
When looking for talent, consider that a true technological leader should be capable of implementing a digital transformation of a business in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution. This means, to understand the depth of the technologies’ potential, the feasibility of integration, the interconnectivity of the offline and online worlds, as well as complexities and implications of technological paths with regards to future decisions.
2. Be Open to Tech Business Models: Digital/Print Content Sale Isn’t Enough
Lonely Planet’s vision is to look beyond their printed guidebook business, or even the traditional digital business of advertising its traffic. According to Skift, when Cabrera joined Lonely Planet, he declared a new strategy:
- Cabrera wanted to ‘elevate’ the brand to an ‘omnichannel travel platform’, while at the same time, explore new adjacent business opportunities’.
- ‘We must be brave and bold to push ourselves into new areas and connect in a meaningful way with our audience. Thinking of Lonely Planet as a platform completely changes the way brands and advertisers can partner with our brand.’ NC2 Media declared that ‘under Cabrera, Lonely Planet will target new partnerships, acquisitions, and diversification’.
- Only one week after Cabrera was announced as CEO in February 2019, Lonely Planet bought ArrivalGuides, a Sweden-based company, and the world’s largest network of destination information. Cabrera said ‘The ArrivalGuides team was able to anticipate what the B2B market demands and have effectively risen to the forefront by building a hub with self-service capabilities and an innovative process to curate content’. He added, ‘ArrivalGuides' model and established channel will allow us to explore a more aggressive and creative B2B strategy and partner with companies in new ways’.
- To summarize, ArrivalGuides allow B2B companies to create content, but even further, to immediately distribute to 100 million visitors via its platform. In the image below, a description of how ArrivalGuides describes its platform on its site: https://biz.arrivalguides.com/
A technology platform like ArrivalGuides will strength the Lonely Planet content generation machine. Even before this acquisition, who wouldn’t have wanted to have its content generated by the prestigious Lonely Planet editorial firm! Now, with ArrivalGuides to top it, a B2B player who purchases Lonely Planet content will have it distributed to the entire world. Great first move by Cabrera!
3. Don't Build IT Technologies Yourself: Use Existing Platforms
Cabrera and Lonely Planet have also simplified their development by either renting technology (SaaS), or buying companies as a whole. In July 2019, Cabrera announced a partnership with Acquia. Cabrera said, ‘We found Acquia to be a great fit because as an open source platform, it gives us digital freedom and flexibility to integrate with our existing systems, while allowing us to extend and integrate new systems’.
Acquia will allow Lonely Planet, among other things, to dynamically adapt the content they display depending on the interest of the user. Lonely Planet doesn’t have to develop this complex technology. Rather, enjoy the benefits of this dynamic content solution from day-1, while they rent the technology from a player who is singly dedicated to this complex task.
Other firms try to develop their own technologies. Even so, haven’t you arrived at a website which is trying to hyper-target you as a user, but are clearly directing the wrong content to you? This technology is not simple. Acknowledging this complexity and partnering up is a great strategy by Cabrera and Lonely Planet.
Finally, Lonely Planet went even further than renting SaaS technologies, and actually buying a company into the direction they wanted, to experiment with influencers. In April 2019, Lonely Planet acquired a two-year old company, Trill. ‘Trill is a booking platform that rewards tastemakers for their travel content.’ They connect users on Instagram and create bookable travel experiences off their content.
‘We are looking at this acquisition from an asset perspective. We want to incorporate Trill's tech and capabilities into our digital products and soon re-imagine our Pathfinders program’, said CEO Luis Cabrera.
Cabrera’s vision is to combine the Pathfinders program (Lonely Planet’s network of avid travelers who produce content) with TRILL’s Instagram technology, allowing Lonely Planet’s network to be rewarded with cash every time a user books from their post (within Lonely Planet websites). Lonely Planet hopes to create ‘one of the largest influencer networks in the market’ and profit as they allow their travelers to also get a cut out of it.
Lonely Planet is hoping to do this without having to build the entire technology stack, rather incorporating existing technology in the market. Another smart move by Cabrera!
2020 and the years ahead will probably lay down many sorts of challenges for travel media players. Through this article, we’ve given you three takeaways from Lonely Planet’s path in 2019 that you can apply to your strategy to transform your business.
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