Luis Cabrera, the newest CEO of travel guidebook company Lonely Planet, plans to use its growing business in China as a way to test out new digital opportunities.

Cabrera was appointed in February, replacing former CEO Daniel Houghton, and has since focused on increasing Lonely Planet’s distribution platform beyond the company’s traditional print guidebook. Currently, Cabrera said, the business is undergoing a research project for the “next evolution” of guides, in order to reach out to younger generations of travelers.

Lonely Planet’s biggest customer growth right now is in non-English speaking regions, especially China, Cabrera told Skift at the Travel Disruption Summit in New York Wednesday. As a result of this, the travel company is currently rethinking its strategy in the country, and plans to experiment with different digital opportunities there.

For example, Cabrera said, the company is interested in tapping into WeChat, the Chinese superapp with over a billion daily users, which offers messaging, photo sharing, payment and banking services, along with many other features.

In this vein, Cabrera has ambitions of evolving the Lonely Planet guide into a series of what he calls “micro-services.” One example of this, he said, would be a concierge service, giving customers the convenience of personalized assistance on the go.

“China provides us a perfect playground to start testing these things out,” Cabrera said.

The company will also experiment with shrinking the guide down, offering shorter, individualized resources for each guest.

“On a three-day trip, you don’t need 150 pages. You need 30 pages curated just for you.”

On top of this, it has plans to expand its digital news platform, which provides short articles on anything new in travel and destinations, along with plenty of photos and video. The articles are produced by a distinct team, separate from the travel guides, which are still the core of its business. Lonely Planet aims to “integrate the news content into the mothership,” Cabrera said.

To do this, the company intends to go deeper, linking its short articles to longer articles, which eventually lead the users to a related travel guide. This will mean more in-depth editorial content coming from the Lonely Planet news team, with the aim of directing users to its main business.

Recent Acquisitions

The company has made two acquisitions this year, in an effort to expand further into different distribution channels.

In April, two months after Cabrera’s appointment, Lonely Planet acquired Trill, a travel platform that turns Instagram photos into bookable experiences. This allows Lonely Planet to make visual content on its digital platforms clickable for direct booking, and is a step toward incorporating travel influencers on Instagram into its business model.

In addition, Cabrera hopes the new platform will help enhance its Pathfinders program, where it partners with individual bloggers to upload videos of their travel experiences.

And in February, Lonely Planet bought Arrival Guides, a Swedish company that claims to be the world’s largest destination content platform. Arrival Guides has partnered with clients like Visa and Hilton, and allows tourism boards to provide copywritten content to its 625 destination guides. Lonely Planet hopes the acquisition will help it increase its business partnerships.

Lonely Planet has struggled recently with an uncertain future, trying to carve out a digital space for itself as a company mainly known for its print guidebooks. A year ago, Skift reported that Lonely Planet’s parent company, NC2, was preparing for a sale, but the company has not yet commented on that possibility.

Photo Credit: Lonely Planet CEO Luis Cabrera at the Travel Disruption Summit in New York City, May 22, 2019. Isaac Carey / Skift