Lonely Planet £10M in the red

BBC Worldwide has stressed Lonely Planet’s web strategy is still a “hugely important” part of its long term future after figures revealed the guide giant has racked up losses of nearly £10 million in eighteen months.

The scale of Lonely Planet’s overall losses was disclosed in the BBC’s Anual Report 2008/9 released this week and comes after a number of redundancies earlier this year in its digital and content divisions.

The state-owned broadcaster’s commercial arm paid £89.9 million for a 75% stake in Lonely Planet in October 2007.

In the eighteen months since then, Lonely Planet has lost £9.6 million on sales of £43 million.

A BBC Worldwide spokesperson told Travolution that the website was “a hugely important part” of the five-year plan for Lonely Planet.

“We bought the brand because it had a significant market share of the travel content business without having exploited its online presence.”

Lonelyplanet.com was relaunched in Novermber 2008, and the numbers appear quite strong. Omniture stats referred to in the Annual Report say that the site is getting 5.5m visitors a month, an increase of nearly 20% year-on-year.

The brand’s investment in the mobile space will continue, with this driving its global aspirations – 270,000 people for example have downloaded its Mandarin phrasebook application for the iPhone.

The brand has also launched a magazine during the year, with content from the print title ending up on the website as well. The site also features travel content from the BBC archives, with “more and more BBC travel content becoming available.”

The traditional guide book side of the band has also “suffered considerably” as part of an overall decline in that sector.

Reports elsewhere suggest that the travel guide book market fell 18.1% in the UK, US and Australia during the year. Lonely Planet however claims that it still the market leader in the UK and Australia and has picked up market share in America.

The cross-over between the web and the guide book business has seen the introduction of a “pick and mix” channel on the web site, where visitors can pay to download individual chapters of a guide book rather than the whole edition.

Lonely Planet also opened a shop at Sydney Airport during the year, with reports elsewhere suggesting that it was looking at a high street presence in London.

Despite the losses, BBC Worldwide is confident that the brand will become profitable. “We’re focusing on advertising and paid for content now, but a number of additional revenue streams will become available to us as we continue to invest and develop the website.”

Lonely Planet sits is a division of BBC Worldwide known as global brands, alongside Top Gear, Planet Earth and Doctor Who. These three brands ended the year with a profit of £41 million.

The investment in the Lonely Planet will continue, according to BBC Worldwide, warning that the brand would remain in the red next year as well.

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