The name Lonely Planet needs no introduction. Their travel books are the bible for any traveller. The company believes that the more travellers know about the people and places they're visiting, the more they'll enjoy their trip and less negative impact their presence will have. To this end, the guidebooks offer information on customs, etiquette, history, religion, art and politics and more. Here, Sesh Seshadri, director and general manager, Lonely Planet India, in conversation with Shweta Khurana, tells us about the innovations they are doing for Indian travellers.
We are no longer seen as a backpacker travel company. Infact, we are a content provider for people to have good experiences. We don’t just give information, we give them experience. It is because we do not write or publish any content that we have not experienced ourselves. We don’t take freebies but write about things as we see and experience. So, the brand is trusted worldwide,” tells Seshadri, director and general manager, Lonely Planet India.
“Updates are done every two years in print version, while on digital versions, it is much faster. Fact checking is done very often. The print and digital versions are also linked together and readers can scan and get more information on the net,” he says.
But, besides focusing on the traditional way of publishing travel guides, Lonely Planet has taken a step further to enhance the experience and readership.
A travel app for all
“People do find content online but it is not curated content. At Lonely Planet, we offer curated content. We will continue to be an important brand for travellers and we are also looking at technology-enabled delivery of content. So, we are keeping up with time. As travellers are going digital, so are we. We also have an app for Lonely Planet (lonelyplanet.com/guidesapp), where the engagement is increasing. We have launched it with 38 cities and in last 3-4 months, we have received a good response. The idea is to cover all the major cities. What’s more? It is totally free of cost,” he shares.
Make your own day
Lonely Planet’s Make My Day is a unique guide that allows one to effortlessly plan one’s perfect day. “Readers just need to flip through the sections and mix and match their itinerary for morning, afternoon and evening. The beauty of it is that it tells us even what transport to take and choose as many as 2000 itinerary options of interest within a destination. Launched a year back, these books are published in Australia and UK,” tells Seshadri. These books also offer insider tips to get to the heart of cities’ must-see sights and experiences, coupled with maps and transport planner to navigate between sights. It also offers information on restaurants and cafes close to a chosen destination. Full colour images of every sight and activity and essential need-to-know info about cities – all make it a powerful tool to sightseeing.
“Besides, Lonely Planet is also publishing a lot of trade books (gift & inspiration books) and children’s books (under the imprint Lonely Planet Kids),” says Seshadri. Lonely Planet Kids aims to kick-start the travel bug and open kids' eyes and minds to the world around them. Their focus is on showcasing quirky facts, amusing tales and inspiring stories that bring our planet to life.
Lonely Planet also offers customised travel content for industries like automobiles, airlines, car rentals, corporate, education, financial services, food products, hotels & resorts, medical tourism, real estate, restaurants, telecom, travel and tour operators, tourism boards and travel accessories.
Lonely Planet has come up with many innovative books like Temple Trips, Great Britain – The Bollywood way, Filmi Escapes, Beach Escapes, Best Escapes Hills, Short Escapes, Travel by Shatabdi, etc…and is looking to publish Buddhist Circuits and Golf.
The Indian touch
There are 48 exciting titles for the Indian sub-continent, which include international travel guides, Short Escapes Series, State guides, pocket guides, thematic guides, regional guides and trade and reference guides.
“We keep in mind Indian readers and hence these books are also priced competitively. We have also launched digital only products for India, with no print version. We have 50 titles as of now, and we are in the process of launching more,” adds Seshadri.
“We have done pretty well in domestic in India, followed by short haul (travel to places like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore) and then long haul (Dubai, London, Spain, France, Hong Kong). People are also looking at going to Kenya and Istanbul,” says Seshadri.
So how does Lonely Planet ensures that the content they get is authentic? “We employ authors, who go through workshops and training. Their work is evaluated and then they are put on the job. We have around 35 authors on the ground in India, and around 300+ globally. They all work as freelancers and come on board when required. The editorial team at Lonely Planet edits it as per the Lonely Planet editorial policy, tone and voice to appeal to the readers,” tells Seshadri.
“For a guide, number games do not matter as readership is different than the number of copies sold. For me, a bestseller is anything that sells 10,000+ copies. We have atleast 6-8 books that have been bestsellers in India, which include Short Escapes (Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore).
On travel blogs
“Blogging by itself is losing sheen as not everyone can become a celebrity blogger. It is not very commercial as of now. It is a great social engagement tool but I cannot really comment on it,” he says.
On a concluding note…
Talking about the social engagement platforms of Lonely Planet, Seshadri informs that they have 500,000 Indian IP users on lonelyplanet.com and 140,000 on lonelyplanet. in websites each month. “We also have 50000 users on Instagram and 30,000 on Twitter in India,” he says.
“We are a very thinking company especially in India and we always think of the traveller, as it is at our core of business. We do a lot of digital activity like India Unexplored contest, where we encouraged travellers to tell us about the unexplored destinations they like. It was a huge success and we wish to have more such programmes in the future,” concludes Seshadri optimistically.
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