Lonely Planet 'up for sale' as Houghton departs

Lonely Planet 'up for sale' as Houghton departs

Lonely Planet c.e.o. Daniel Houghton has left the travel publisher and parent company NC2 is reportedly pursuing a sale of the business.

The news comes five years after the Tennessee-based media company bought Lonely Planet with 24-year-old Houghton, formerly executive director, taking the role of chief operating officer at the time.

According to travel media website Skift, NC2 is now pursuing a sale of the travel publisher after buying it in 2013 for £51.5m.

Previous owners BBC Worldwide had paid £132m over two stages (in 2007 and 2011) to own 100% of the publisher, investing a further £20m, but was later criticised for its handling of the sale.

A Lonely Planet spokesperson told The Bookseller: “We can confirm that Daniel Houghton has stepped away from his role as c.e.o of Lonely Planet in order to take on a new c.e.o role with another digital company. We'd like to thank him for everything he did at Lonely Planet over the last five years and it's a testament to his leadership and dedication that Lonely Planet is in the strong position it is today as one of the world's leading travel brands. The rest of Lonely Planet's leadership team remains in place and will be continuing with business as usual.”

The spokesperson declined to comment on whether the business was up for sale.

Houghton announced his departure to his 2,200 Twitter followers on Tuesday (8th May): “So thankful for an amazing 5 years @lonelyplanet," he said. "Unbelievably grateful for our team, partners and customers throughout our 45 year history. Whatever you do in life make sure you take the time to travel and see the world. Travel is absolutely a force for good!

“Also really excited to announce I've accepted a new role as c.e.o of another company starting in a few months. Will share more details as soon as I can! Great things to come.”

Total print sales through TCM rose under Houghton from £9.8m in 2013 to £13.4m in 2016, increasing slightly last year to £13.6m, according to Nielsen BookScan. In 2004, total print sales stood at £16.7m.

The publisher made plans to adapt to technological change, and partnered with Amazon and Google so that travellers could access Lonely Planet products through the Alexa device and Google Home. The company launched a platform for digital videos alongside partners such as GoPro and tweaked its online store, slimming down its offerings. Last year it commissioned 360 Virtual Reality (VR) videos from around the world and in 2016 it launched a culinary imprint, Lonely Planet Food for "people at home who are keen to experience world food at its most authentic".

However according to Skift.com, “it lacks a pure variety of nuanced information about in-destination locations” compared to websites such as Tripadvisor and has “failed to differentiate itself" in a crowded digital marketplace, which now also includes social media influencers as well as travel brands.

Following a purchase of Lonely Planet by NC2 Media in 2013, the publisher made around 80 redundancies worldwide in response to a “challenging external environment and to position the company for continued success", although 27 new roles were created in the London office following the redundancies.

NC2 is based headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, and focuses on the creation, acquisition and distribution of digital content and the development of the technologies. The company's primary shareholder is American billionaire Brad Kelley who built his fortune from discount cigarettes.

The publisher was founded by Tony and Maureen Wheeler as a backpacker's guide 40 years ago.