On the road again: Lonely Planet is planning for the future of travel

Simon Calder, also called The Man Who Pays His Method, has been writing about travel for The Impartial since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel situation – and what it means for you.

‘Peak guidebook’, I reckon, was in the 12 months 2000. Travel had been increasing quick globally throughout the Nineteen Nineties. From the UK to Europe, a surge was below method: Britain was the birthplace of price range aviation, whereas the Channel Tunnel added further capability to France.

Whereas open skies, seas and tunnel unlocked the Continent for hundreds of thousands of British travellers, long-haul air fares appeared in everlasting decline: the most cost-effective London-Sydney ticket at the begin of the twenty first century was £352 return on Alitalia through Rome (a route, and an airline, that now not exists).

These travellers wanted inspiration and data. The Impartial offered concise two-day guides to cities in the 48 Hours sequence, in competitors with different newspapers and journals corresponding to Wanderlust journal and Conde Nast Traveller. Terrestrial tv was extraordinarily in style: BBC One’s Vacation and ITV’s Want You Right here …? have been preventing on the seashores for trip viewership. However all different sources of travel know-how paled as compared with the mighty guidebook: created for and by the impartial, budget-minded traveller.

The style started in the early Nineteen Seventies. The Hitchhiker’s Information to Europe was swiftly adopted by Throughout Asia on the Low-cost – revealed by Tony and Maureen Wheeler at their new Australian dwelling in 1973 after making the epic journey on little greater than hopes and goals.

Their handbook for the hippie freeway might have contained some questionable recommendation on marijuana in Afghanistan (“in case you are discreet with smaller quantities you’re in all probability OK … small busts could be bribed out of”). But the rudimentary information triggered a low-budget, high-reward travel revolution.

Lonely Planet, as the Wheelers’ kitchen-table enterprise grew to become, empowered backpackers with recommendation on hang-outs in hubs corresponding to Istanbul, Kabul and Kathmandu, and all roads and borders in between.

For the first time travellers may spend money on paperback infrastructure for their adventures. And goodness, they did. In 1982, Tough Guides joined the occasion: founder Mark Ellingham, whose first guide was devoted to “a nuclear-free Greece,” summed up the objective succinctly as serving to travellers “make the most of their time and sources”.

By the begin of the twenty first century, each nook of the globe (in addition to the Moon and Mars) had been written up by the main guidebook publishers. With travel guides promoting of their hundreds of thousands, what may presumably go unsuitable? Properly, 2000 was when the Tough Information to the Web was first revealed.

At the time, efficiently reserving a flight on-line felt like a minor miracle. Steadily, although, the travel business migrated on-line. TripAdvisor, one other 2000 start, introduced user-generated content material to the traveller. Qualitatively, lots of of opinions of unsure provenance can’t match the judgement of an neutral {and professional} researcher. However amongst weekenders taking benefit of £29 air fares to discover a nook of some international metropolis, an analogue companion was more and more thought to be extra baggage.

Add in the shock of 9/11 and dozens extra terrorist assaults on vacationer spots; the international monetary crash; and the travel-crushing years of the Covid pandemic, and I used to be pleasantly stunned to search out Lonely Planet vice-president Tom Corridor smiling once I met him this week.

Tom joined the firm on the crest of that turn-of-the-century wave. Over the previous 15 years he has seen the Lonely Planet parcel handed from Tony and Maureen Wheeler to the BBC, to a reclusive Kentucky tobacco billionaire and now to a conglomerate named Crimson Ventures comprising “a portfolio spanning dozens of geographies, enterprise groups, and industries”. The brand new proprietor creates “digital experiences that assist hundreds of thousands”. So the place, I questioned, do paper guidebooks are available in?

“We’re nonetheless in a world the place your cell phone – whereas it may do many issues – is an costly factor to make use of whenever you’re travelling,” Tom says. “It is not at all times dependable. And it’ll serve you up the first web page of Google search returns. A guidebook can do issues that may be extra to all of these issues. I believe additionally when persons are touring to locations the place there is nonetheless a language barrier, a guidebook is one thing which is very useful.

“There’s additionally only a feeling that ‘I don’t simply have this factor for once I’m on the road – I’ve it for once I’m planning’. And planning is in all probability Lonely Planet’s absolute focus now.”

If that sounds to you want “again to the future” – a lot the higher. The aim of a travel information stays the identical.

“We all know that folks’s time is very valuable. How can we information you with itineraries, with inspiration, with solutions that may actually make it easier to to make the most of that point? And that’s how we begin.”

And with that, I began considering a travel information to the future…

Listen to Simon Calder’s travel podcast for The Independent with Lonely Planet’s Tom Hall

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