Skift Take

Even if Lonely Planet's main reason for acquiring Elsewhere isn't to sell more guidebooks, increasing its digital scope will help the publisher do so. The company still hasn't made a full recovery from the pandemic, so it needs to take steps to turn increasing numbers of people eager for travel advice toward its products.

Travel guidebook company Lonely Planet has bought Elsewhere, a website that links travelers directly with local experts who assist in designing trips, in attempt to deepen its digital reach to consumers as the publisher has seen a decrease in book sales since the start of the pandemic.

“The challenge we’re signing ourselves up for is to take Lonely Planet into the digital future, and that means we have to know our customers,” said Lonely Planet President Philippe von Borries.

“We have to create a more personalized experience for (the modern traveler), so Lonely Planet can show up for you and actually be of greater service to you. For (us), it’s so important to connect you to people to make your experience richer. Elsewhere has a phenomenal network of local experts.”

Financial terms of the deal, which closed on January 31, were not disclosed.

The acquisition comes as Lonely Planet, which has changed hands numerous times in recent years — including being purchased by American media company Red Ventures in 2020, has yet to hit pre-Covid figures. January saw the publisher reached 75 percent of book sales from the same month in 2019, a year in which Lonely Planet sold five million books. But von Borries told Skift that his company’s main goal from the acquisition is not to increase sales despite its longtime focus on guidebooks.

“We are in the process of reimagining Lonely Planet,” he said when asked about his goals for Elsewhere, adding that the company aims to making planning and booking much easier for travelers.

Von Borries cites the extensive experience of Elsewhere’s co-founders, Alexis Bowen and Craig Zapatka, as a major reason why the acquisition being successful for both parties. “They’ve built something that is super simple to use — getting you into a great onboarding flow — on Elsewhere as you’re looking to be inspired, where to travel next,” von Borries said.

As for Lonely Planet’s other plans for Elsewhere, von Borries said more information about trip planning will likely appear on the publisher’s website. “It just makes so much sense for us to integrate something as awesome as Elsewhere’s itinerary builder into that experience,” he said, adding there’s no timeframe for such a feature to appear on Lonely Planet’s website as his company will continue to let Elsewhere grow.

Bowen said while her other companies were interested in acquiring the startup, it only seriously considered overtures from Lonely Planet. “Lonely Planet has our heart,” she said. “For us, it is the reference in travel.”

“We’re aligned in missions and values. So it is a natural integration.”

Bowen said that Elsewhere was not experiencing any financial difficulties, which have led numerous travel companies to seek merger and acquisitions deals. She told Skift that Elsewhere, which launched in April 2021, broke even two months after launching and it booked 20 percent of its entire revenue since inception in the first 11 days of February 2021 alone. The company’s leadership structure won’t change as Bowen and Zapatka are its only two employees.

While Bowen expressed uncertainty about an exact timeline for the general public to see the fruits of its relationship with Lonely Planet, she said — when asked about any products Elsewhere would be rolling out with Lonely Planet — that her company would be offering a set of group trips in roughly 25 destinations worldwide in mid-to-late March.

Meanwhile, does Lonely Planet share Elsewhere’s concerns about overtourism? Zapatka definitely believes that’s the case. “What Lonely Planet is excited about and one reason they’re interested in us is our mission to fight against overtourism,” he said.

“We’re happy to bring that component of travel to (Lonely Planet’s) space, such as the guidebook and digital reader.”

Likewise, von Borries wants Lonely Planet to further discussions about overtourism. “(The fight against overtourism) is something we want to play a big role in,” he said, adding that he envisions Bowen and Zapatka assuming leadership roles in those efforts.

“It’s about making it clear to people that the places that are on the topic of the list are not necessarily the only places you can go to. That is our greatest responsibility and being able to do that with (Bowen and Zapatka) is really, really significant.”

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Tags: acquisitions, guidebooks, lonely planet, media

Photo credit: Lonely Planet is banking of its acquisition of Elsewhere to help the publisher remain competitive in the marketplace. Razlan / Flickr

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