Despite recent experiments with emerging technologies like voice-activated speakers and 360-degree video, Lonely Planet’s next move is to revisit a well-traveled route: mobile apps.
Earlier this week, the travel guide company launched its second app, Trips, which aims to be a destination for “editorial, narrative” content, creating a digital destination for travelers of the mobile era to find user-generated inspiration for future trips. The app is the first time the guidebook franchise has created a community since its Thorn Tree forum launched in the 1990s during the early days of the internet.
According to Lonely Planet CEO Daniel Houghton, the app isn’t meant to be the only place for pixelated trophy shots. Rather, he sees it as a complementary place for users to create their own guides in a “glossy magazine” fashion. For example, if someone is interested in taking a road trip, Houghton said they can use the app to browse through the curated list of road trips that might be of interest to them.
“I think this is more about a community of people that travel and having a product specific to like ‘Oh so and so just went and made that trip.’ You know, organized with the traveler in mind, which is different than someone tweeting about them being in a place or posting Facebook pictures or whatever.”
When the app first launched, many were quick to compare the Trips app to Instagram, which has become a platform known for travel photos. (However, anyone who’s followed enough social influencers has likely been frustrated by how often they post a breathtaking place, but don’t add anything about where they were.)
While it might not be competing directly with Instagram, it will be competing for people’s attention. After all, some studies have shown that 85 percent of someone’s time on their smart phone is consumed by just five apps—and one of those is Instagram.
To remain relevant, Lonely Planet has begun exploring new territory. When it introduced video, GoPro sponsored it. Late last year and earlier this year, Samsung partnered for the Best in Travel list with a series of 360-degree videos shot in Canada, which Lonely Planet named the best country to visit in 2017. He said the partnerships are “huge” for the company, adding that traditional publishers are going to need to lean into them more than traditional models.
“It’s unfortunately been an industry that’s been ridiculously slow to adopt consumer patterns, which is unfortunately very self-serving,” he said. “Media companies are still having to make money off of basic technology that was invented in 1996 and hasn’t really changed much since in display advertising.”
Another curious partnership was with 23andMe, the DNA analysis company. Lonely Planet had some of their authors take the test to learn their ancestry, and then did a mini-documentary about the discovery process.
“It’s great for 23andMe, and it’s great for our viewers to see what that would be like,” he said. “I just think it’s a good example of a really natural collaboration between two brands. I think you’re going to see more of that and less of transactional, campaign-based things.”
Last year, Lonely Planet was a launch partner when Google debuted its smart speaker, Google Home. Now, if someone wants to ask their speaker or the Google Assistant app about travel, they can get advice from Lonely Planet. And while that might sound tedious to plan an entire trip through talking to what is still basic artificial intelligence, it’s helping with awareness—and with search results.
“It sounds a little boring, but what happens when you’re asking your phone travel questions?” he said. “You can’t not come up in those answers. It’s sort of like Google results without a webpage to look at. So you have to get into those things really early so you can be there when they evolve.”
Houghton said he’s also interested in seeing how other types of artificial intelligence, such as the use of chatbots, might be useful to Lonely Planet and its community of travelers.
“Some really dumb applications could be quite useful for a lot of us.”
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