BBC says no deal done yet for Lonely Planet

The BBC has denied "a deal has been done" to sell a majority stake in Lonely Planet, saying it is continuing to explore "strategic options" for the travel publisher.

Skift.com has reported that the majority stake in Lonely Planet is to be sold to reclusive billionaire Brad Kelley from Kentucky US, in a deal which was scheduled to be announced next week.

However, a spokesman for BBC Worldwide told The Bookseller: "We have been exploring strategic options for Lonely Planet for some time now but no deal has been done and we are not going to comment on speculation about its future." Lonely Planet has not yet responded to press enquiries.

Skift said the deal was in the "final stages of negotiation", and would go through unless it hits "any big red flags". It said Kelley would buy a majority controlling stake. Kelley formerly sold cigarette discount brands such as USA Gold, Bull Durham and Malibu before he sold the company in 2001 and invested in land and conservation sites in America, according to Skift.

Rumours that current owners BBC Worldwide were on the verge of selling the travel publisher have been abound for the last few months, since the BBC valued it at £50m less than it bought it for five years previously. In its annual review for 2011-12, BBC Worldwide valued Lonely Planet at £85m after buying a 75% stake in the company in 2007 for £88.1m and its total investment upped to £130.2m when founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler sold their stakes in February last year.

In December, the Guardian reported that Lonely Planet was looking for an outside investor or sale of Lonely Planet, reporting that the BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten was keen on "reining in BBC Worldwide's expansionist ambitions" and unhappy with the number of non-TV investments made by BBC Worldwide.

Lonely Planet is the market leader for guide books in the UK with a share of about 30%, but this is in the context of an overall travel book market that has declined by 41% to £73m over the past five years. The publisher has expanded online with its website, e-books and apps, but faces fierce competition from free content via TripAdvisor or Google, which bought rival brand Frommers last year.