When I first started traveling, I began to
wonder if there was a requirement that guidebook series begin with
the letters F or B. My first purchase was a Frommers, followed by
Fodors, Berlitz, Fielding, Baedeckers and Blue Guide.
The mold seemed
indestructible until I headed to Africa in 1983, and the only book
on the continent that I could find, Africa on a Shoestring, was
published by an Australian company I had never heard of: Lonely
Planet is the largest publisher of guidebooks in the world. Its 650
titles account for one-quarter of all English-language guidebooks
It began as a
series for budget travelers heading off the beaten path, and though
it now covers mainstream destinations and mid- and upscale
properties, it remains the brand of choice for independent,
The books are
written for travelers, not tourists. Many of their readers pride
themselves in avoiding contact with traditional tourism
infrastructure -- less than 10% indicate that they prefer to travel
with a tour group or buy a package or resort holiday.
would argue that the first wave of Lonely Planet readers has had a
tremendous influence on the traditional travel industry. As they
aged, they sought a bit more comfort, predictability and
organization in their travel and created demand for organized
ecotourism and adventure packages. They are today the driving force
behind the movement toward experiential travel. In other words,
they are the reason Tauck Tours became Tauck World
Though young Lonely
Planet readers can be viewed as being outside the reach of the
industry, they could also be seen as a possible indicator of its
future direction. In that light, Lonely Planets findings in its
Travelers Pulse Survey 2005 is of keen interest.
The online survey,
conducted last December, was produced in conjunction with
VisitBritain and STA Travel as well as MTV, Youth Hostels
International and a student travel federation. It received nearly
readers love to travel, and they travel a lot. For instance, though
only 19% of U.S. citizens hold a passport, 48% of American readers
of Lonely Planet have traveled to more than 10
As a region, Europe
was the most popular, but there was significant variance among
readers from the three places that constitute the largest group of
respondents (Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.) about which
countries they would most like to visit in the future. The top 10
selections for Americans were (in order) Australia, India, Italy,
Chile, New Zealand, Thailand, Greece, Brazil, Vietnam and
The section marked
Behavior may be the best indicator of future trends. Of particular
interest were motivators -- why Lonely Planet travelers travel. On
a scale of 1 to 5, 95% rated exploring other cultures as a 4 or 5.
Eighty-seven percent were looking for a sense of
locals and exploring nontourist areas each rated 82%, with relaxing
or escaping life just a step behind at 81%.
places visited rated 40%, but this number was higher among
respondents ages 18 to 24. On the other hand, relaxing or escaping
life saw a spike among respondents over age 35.
The overall sense
one gets from these motivator responses seems to be bolstered by
what I found to be the most interesting question in the survey: How
has traveling as an independent traveler impacted your outlook on
On a scale of 1 to
5 (with 5 representing a major effect), 92% said respect for other
cultures rated a 4 or 5. Eighty-three percent felt respect for
other cultures prompted them to continue to travel independently,
82% said it helped them develop positive personal values and ethics
and 79% felt it gave them responsible travel habits.
traditional travel agencies rated poorly as a source of pretravel
information (13% indicated they used agents frequently for this
purpose), they fared better when it came to booking. Selected as
the booking method of choice by 24% of respondents, they beat out
online agencies, which were chosen by 19%. Researchers expressed
surprise at these findings, commenting that consumers still want
the security of booking with a real person.
Supplier Web sites
were the big winners, with 39% indicating thats where they book
most often. Lonely Planet commented that discounts offered by
airlines was a contributing factor.
The only sure way
to get bookings, of course, is to give people what they want. They
always want discounts, but when demand is high, no supplier or
retailer wants to incent with rate.
To understand the
other things people want, the Lonely Planet study may in itself be
viewed as a guidebook of sorts, helping the industry find where it
wants to go next.