Lonely Planet, the world's leading travel information provider, is betting big on India, which it sees as its fastest growing market, besides China.
On the day the company announced the launch of 10 outbound travel guides customised specifically for Indians, Matt Goldberg, global chief executive officer, told Business Standard Lonely Planet was targeting 40 destinations within two years. It has begun with international destinations, but will venture into Indian cities next year.
The initiative to have tailored travel guides for India makes immense business sense for a company like Lonely Planet, though the move comes six years after it had done the same in China. The company, now a part of the BBC Worldwide family, is eyeing the projected magic figure of 50 million outbound travellers (Indians travelling abroad) by 2020.
"Whatever sales target we set for India, we are confident we'll be successful because there's so much room for growth," Goldberg said. "In 2011, 33 million Indians had travelled to foreign shores, up eight per cent from 30.5 million the previous year."
He refused to share sales or investment figures, but pointed out one-third of the company's revenue comes from Asia-Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand, another one-third from the UK and Europe and the remaining from Americas.
Does he see this math changing, with greater revenue flowing from countries like India and China , in the coming years? "I do expect that. You'll see that in the numbers," Goldberg replied."I certainly believe India and China, along with other BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, will grow faster than what were earlier thought to be the fast-growing markets such as the US, the UK and Europe."
Reiterating the significance of the India market, Goldberg said the company had opened a fully-owned office in India, unlike in any other geography in Asia. In China, too, Lonely Planet operates in a partnership.
The company has its fourth fully-owned office in Gurgaon, besides London, Oakland, and Melbourne where it is headquartered. In all other geographiesFrance, Italy, Germany, Spain, Korea, China, Russia and Brazilit is in a partnered venture.
"India looms large in the history of Lonely Planet because we did the first India guide more than 30 years ago. We have also been watching this incredible growth in this country."
Another number shows where India stands in the Lonely Planet universe. Over the years, the company has sold 2 million travel guides across the world on India as a destination. This is two per cent of the total sales of the company at 100 million over the years.
As for revenues, Lonely Planet is pinning hopes on digital content, including ebooks. The digital revenue of the company has grown to about a quarter of the total from just 10 per cent four years ago. It is looking at touching closer to 50 per cent of the revenue from digital content in another five years.
Bangkok tops the list of the 10 destinations that Lonely Planet has focused on to woo the travel-crazy Indians, others being London, Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, Bhutan, China, France, Italy and Great Britain. How does the company ensure authenticity of information and lack of bias?
"We offer independent content without any commercial interest. We don't take freebies from anybody," claimed Goldberg. The company goes through a detailed screening process for several 100 authors who are four to five months on the road for any one book, according to the CEO, vouching for the tagline, "we know because we go".
Even so, there have been reports of controversies surrounding Lonely Planet's recommendations at times. Isn't that a risk in this business where the company not only suggests restaurants and bars but also dishes and drinks? "There's risk in every business, but we are trusted for our travel advice," replied Goldberg.
Lonely Planet was founded by Tony Wheeler, who now just prefers to travel and write. The first book of the companyAcross Asia On The Cheap--was written and published by Wheeler.