Skift Take

Red Ventures had better keep publishing the print guidebooks or it'll face an uproar among a segment of diehard travelers.

Red Ventures, an owner of digital businesses, has acquired Lonely Planet, a leading global travel media company, from NC2 Media.

The companies didn’t disclose the deal terms. Skift’s “back-of-the-envelope” estimate is the deal is in the $50 million range, likely all cash. A banker Skift spoke with said that Lonely Planet was a “pretty distressed sale.”

Based in South Carolina, Red Ventures owns traveler advice site The Points Guy and other consumer-facing media brands like CNET, Healthline, and Bankrate.

Red said it is “remaining committed to publishing the guidebooks.” Lonely Planet has produced more than 150 million travel guidebooks since its founding in 1973.

It was unclear how much cooperation and cross-selling would happen between The Points Guy and Lonely Planet. The Points Guy [TPG] founder Brian Kelly said, “It’s a brand that will work well with TPG as we try to make loyalty and travel more accessible to millions of travelers.”

UPDATE: In the few years before the pandemic, Tennessee-based NC2 Media shopped Lonely Planet around with help of UBS, seeking about $300 million, or roughly five times annualized revenue, according to a source. At the time, printed guidebooks were the company’s most profitable and largest unit.

The pandemic’s devastation of international travel and disruption to many bookstores may have prompted NC2 Media to accept a lower price.

Lonely Planet has changed hands over the years.

In 2013, BBC Worldwide sold Lonely Planet to NC2 Media for around $80 million (£51.5 million), after having bought 75 percent ownership of the brand from company founder Tony Wheeler in 2007, and the remaining 25 percent in 2011. The BBC came under fire for having overpaid and under-resourced the brand. The BBC allegedly lost nearly £80 million (approximately $100 million at the time) on the deal.

NC2 Media owned the travel publisher for about five years, but struggled to find a footing for the company during the digital age. Brad Kelley, a Tennessee-based businessman and one of the largest private landowners in the United States, controlled NC2.

For a while, Lonely Planet has made a push in China.

Red Ventures closed its $500 million deal with ViacomCBS’ for CNET Media Group in October. In 2017, it paid $1.4 billion for Bankrate.

This year many asset managers and other investors are snatching up companies with strong brand power but lacking in resources to build. They can tune-up operations, taking out costs through the back-office.

The fate and ownership of Lonely Planet’s smaller sister brand, BudgetTravel, is unclear.

Red, around since 2000, has a pattern of leaving publishing brands alone editorially.

UPDATE: Now that Red Ventures has three travel properties, The Points Guy, Lonely Planet, and ExpertFlyer (which Red acquired two years ago) some will wonder if it will seek additional opportunistic acquisitions of travel properties, which might sell at lower valuations due to the pandemic.

The viability of print publications in a world that’s increasingly digital will likely remain a topic of conversation for Lonely Planet CEO Luis Cabrera, who had been seeking more digital innovation, new partnerships, acquisitions, and diversification.

“While the travel industry is experiencing an unprecedented downturn, we believe it will come back stronger than ever, and no brand represents the magic of the modern explorer better than Lonely Planet,” said Red Ventures co-founder and CEO, Ric Elias, in a statement.

NOTE: Story was updated with additional information from sources.

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Tags: guidebooks, lonely planet, media, mergers and acquisitions, publishing

Photo credit: Red Ventures, a platform of digital businesses, has acquired Lonely Planet, a guidebook brand (pictured here), from NC2 Media for an undisclosed amount. 292238 / 292238

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