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Web 3.0 and Lonely Planet

Posted on Friday, May 4th 2007

We have been discussing the online travel industry and have covered Yahoo! Travel, TripAdvisor, Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia and Priceline from a Web 3.0 perspective earlier. Here we will take a look at Lonely Planet’s offering.

Lonely Planet is a travel content publication company founded by Maureen and Tony Wheeler in 1973 and headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. The travel site contains detailed, on-the-spot information on travel destinations across the world, online shop for guidebooks, ticket bookings, reviews of destinations, networking while traveling, photo and video sharing, etc. with 3 million unique monthly visitors. Lonely Planet has won its sixth Webby, including its fourth-consecutive ‘People’s Voice’ award, for best travel site at the 2005 Webby Awards.

This is the first site that we review which has its origins in Content, and all the other features have come later. Our prior reviews have all been of sites that were born during the e-commerce boom of the mid-late nineties, and have become very large businesses already, except TripAdvisor, which is a more recent site that comes more from a Community point-of-view.

Context
The site has some very interesting contextual nuances including budget lodging facilities for students (through its tie-up with Hostelworld) to volunteer / working travel to adventure travel.

LonelyPlanet has nine navigation channels, including Destinations, Online Shop, Bookings & Services, Accommodation, Travel Classifieds, Bluelist, ThornTree Forum, Travel Stories and lonelyplanet.tv.

Content
LonelyPlanet is one of the world’s leading sources for travel information, containing more than 20,000 pages of content covering over 400 international travel destinations and written by 200 authors from over 20 countries. The site also has over 300 on-the-road authors.

Hotel reviews written by professional travelers have intricate details about location advantage of each hotel, star ratings, proximity from the nearby railway station and available transport facilities. Really excellent reviews. The site was very helpful and allowed me to find an old palace that has been turned into a heritage hotel in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India. I had the option of choosing between a mid range or a top-end one. However, I would have been happier with photographs for all the hotels.

The tours section powered by Actvitybreaks allowed me to find tickets for a Prague Spring Music Concert.

The lonelyplanet.tv is also a standout. I will discuss this later under Community. Expedia, take note: This is moving towards YouTube in Context.

Commerce
Lonely Planet earns most of its revenues from commissions on bookings made through its site. Lonely Planet also earns commission on insurance, travel gear, TEFL and other services bought through its site. World Nomads sells travel insurance covering overseas medical insurance and under Travel gear one can find anything from clothing to backpacks to shoes to iPods to camera to SIM cards for phones. The site also retails its travel guides and travel related books and DVDs.

Community
LonelyPlanet powered by ThornTree has done a commendable job in the travelers’ forum and is at par with TripAdvisor. ThornTree which has desk branches all over the world ensures that there are country-specific forums where the users can not only post and share their travel experiences, photos or videos, but also choose to connect with like minded fellow travelers from countries of their choice and also select the country where their posts would be shown. The forum has 250,000 registered members who contribute posts, comments, plan trips, and give advice or recommendations.

Travel Classifieds is a good innovation and with its different categories – Flat / house share, vehicles, stuff for sale / wanted, travel jobs, travel companions, and missed connections and a search engine – has taken the interactivity of the site to a different level compared to its peers. Guess what, the Classifieds section allows one to search for and buy a second-hand surfboard, or even to find a short-term job to extend the travel budget by a few weeks.

The site has Podcasts, RSS feeds and allows users to swap stuff, search for travel partners, look to share hostel rooms, or just get advice on travel plans. The Tony Wheeler’s blog is a good read, although I would like to see a much wider collection of travel blogs.

Loneyplanet.tv allows users to upload and share videos. It also has a video locator, which allow users to choose a particular location and then watch travel related videos from that location. I enjoyed a Himalaya base camp video.

Vertical Search
Vertical search features in LonelyPlanet are more user friendly than TripAdvisor or Travelocity with advanced search options, as it allowed me to specify my preference for hotels with non-smoking rooms or where I can take my pets or my currency mode for payment. Apart from these, there is not that much to say about LonelyPlanet’s vertical search features. Clearly an area to can improve and inject some imagination.

Personalization
There is hardly any personalization on LonelyPlanet besides a few obvious trip saving / sharing features. Another gaping Web 3.0 hole.

Business Model
LonelyPlanet, being a travel publication company earns most of its revenues from selling travel related books. LonelyPlanet.com, with 10 million page views per month also, earns a substantial amount from advertisements. The ad rates vary from $0.50 to $1.30 CPC.

Web 3.0 Rating: Context: A-; Content: A+; Community: A; Commerce: A-; Personalization: C; Vertical Search B-; Overall Rating: B+

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