“The beauty of Lonely Planet is that we are constantly creating new experiences”
says Naveen Seshadri, head of corporate engagement of Lonely Planet in conversation with All About Book Publishing.
Lonely Planet is, by far, the best travel publisher across the world. So, what makes it so special in this digital age where information is available at the click of a button?“There is a discerning customer out there, who is looking for real-time information. She is not looking for crowd-sourced information but for information from experts and wants to delve deeper into getting to know everything about a destination. Our authors actually go and experience the places we write about. As an editorial policy, we do not write about anything we haven’t experienced,” says Naveen Seshadri of Lonely Planet.
Key strategies for a travel publisher…
“One of the keys to our success is to get a better pulse of what the traveller is looking for. As technology influences the publishing industry more and more, a large amount of emphasis is being put on user research and user experience. Another focus area is real-time information. For example, there was an earthquake in Nepal a few years ago, people did not stop travelling to Nepal but they wanted more current information on where to go, what to do, and how to stay safe,” shared Naveen.
He also pointed out that the B2B area is another segment which has a huge potential to grow in travel publishing, wherein there can be joint promotions for a particular destination.”I would be focusing on creating the right kinds of travel and content based solutions for our clients and partners for the next few months in the South-Asian market,” he added.
Trends in travel publishing…technology is the key
“Besides, as a publisher, we have to think beyond print. Video has already been identified as a game-changer across media channels in 2017. It can add a lot of charm and engagement to a website or an app. It is still an underutilised medium and it can actually be used in a much more effective way. Videos need to be in a more concise format – 2-3 minutes long, to engage customers is ideal. These video can range from destinations, points of interest, culture, history, etc,” said Naveen. Lonely Planet does a lot of video in the B2B space currently, besides being in our major campaigns like ‘Best in Travel’.
Talking about print and electronic media, he said, “While we are seeing a clear paradigm shift to the electronic medium globally, there are still print loyalists and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the Sub-continent markets, so we try and make sure that we’re present across multiple spaces to suit our customers.” Thus, Lonely Planet has many solutions like a highly responsive website, a free ‘Guides’ app with 50 city destinations for free, in addition to printed guides, travel magazines across the world, a sound B2B Client Solutions business and even a Consumer Products and Merchandise vertical”. Though, he is quick to point out that if you want to deep dive into information, the printed book still works best. Interestingly, the company has launched a US magazine last year, while the magazine has been available in India for a number of years. “We found a gap in the travel magazine market and boldly believed that we could fill that gap,” said Naveen.
Talking more about technology in publishing, Naveen pointed out that getting feedback in real-time is as important as giving relevant information. “It has helped us to know what people are looking for, what they like or dislike and other areas for us to improve both our delivery mechanisms and the relevance of our information to our audience,” he shared. “Technology also gives us the ability to do more at a relatively lower cost in the long-term. Even though the initial fixed costs are high, the variable costs can be controlled well. That’s why we can giveaway apps with a really sound value proposition for free. The integrated strategy of technology and print will keep us on the right track.” Naveen surmises that the technology path was accelerated after the acquisition of Lonely Planet from the BBC.
Another important trend he pointed out was that a lot of people are doing sustainable travel globally. “Also bike-travel is in vogue. We’ve also added some really important value in the space of Accessible Travel. Lonely Planet publishes content in all these categories. Another interesting area for us to look at is geo-located audio guides as well as AR & VR, which is yet to make ripples in the industry,” he shared.
On asking about their competitors in travel publishing, Naveen shared that Lonely Planet is by far the number one in the guide books market. “We are in a very interesting hybrid space, where we compete in a lot of different spaces. There are a few publishers publishing guide books, but we do not see them as our competitors as we have got into other markets by developing our technology capabilities. We don’t look at travel as a medium but a channel for anybody who wants to work with us. The success of Lonely Planet depends on where we focus and what we put our capital behind,” he mentioned.
“Our guides still sell across the board in addition to specialty books like Ultimate Travel List, Best in Travel etc.” he shared.
“One of the challenges we face as a multi-faceted company is constantly looking at where to focus, given how fast technology changes in today’s world. In the process, we make a few errors now and then, but we will continue to grow. Thus, allocation of resources in the absolute right area is very important. Besides, there are a lot of benefits in being a global company and at the same time, it is a challenge as well as you have to make every audience across geographical and socio-economic variances happy with what we provide them with,” he said.
“Besides, we have a highly eclectic audience – from people who have been with us for 30-40 years to people who just downloaded our latest app yesterday. We have to try and appeal to all audiences effectively. So, one thing we do with our content is that we allow you to consume as much content as you might want or need. This depends on how much time you wish to spend at one particular destination and what exactly you are looking at – sight-seeing, adventure, cultural – immersion etc,” added Naveen.
Another challenge which he sees is language translation. “To be truly global, the question is can we be available in all major languages across the world? Even though automated translations are now available, the question is how valid and accurate are they,” he added.
“Plus, disruptive start-ups emerge everyday. We may not be as nimble as a start-up and not humongous as the big Tech players so, we have to operate like a start-up and yet have the aspirations of a big organization since we’ve been around for quite a while,” he added.
“We are aiming to grow across multiple business units. Even within book publishing, we have three verticals – Guide Books, Trade & Reference Books and Children’s’ Publishing. We have already branched out into different areas. We have Apps, Mobile web, Client Solutions, Magazines, Solutions for Tourism Boards,” he added. “The beauty of Lonely Planet is that we are constantly creating and curating content and will always find a way to serve you – our customers – in the best possible way” concluded Naveen.