Iconic Travel Brand Lonely Planet Partners with Acquia
As a traveler, I hold great reverence for the Lonely Planet travel guide collection. Before we all had mini super-computers in our pockets and stable WiFi connections in beach towns on every continent, travelers had Lonely Planet’s dependable printed guides for information about destination, and how to get there. There were the countless times I gleefully bought— or had handed down — my favorite paperback travel companion. Even in today’s digital age, you can’t sit in a common area of a traveler's hostel without seeing one. The Lonely Planet travel books are iconic and known the world over for being a reliable source for the explorers of our time.
Combining their romantic history with our present world’s high-tech demands, Lonely Planet has embarked on a new digital transformation. Their goal? Create the world's most consumer-centric travel platform.
In keeping with Lonely Planet’s recent acquisition of Trill Travel (a platform that allows users to book travel experiences by employing user-generated social media content through the use of hashtags), the leading travel brand is reinventing their online presence. To accomplish developing the customized solutions they need, Lonely Planet has partnered with Acquia.
The partnership with Acquia allows Lonely Planet to create and operate their fully customizable user-experience by engaging the personalization tool, Acqua Lift. Check out the press release to learn more about the partnership.
I was excited to connect with Lonely Planet’s CEO and President, Luis Cabrera, to talk about their mission to become the ‘most consumer-centric platform in travel’, and understand their perspective — from a customer’s point-of-view — about why they chose Acquia.
Lonely Planet has developed, what you’re calling, the most consumer-centric platform in travel. When did this digital transformation begin and how has it made Lonely Planet stand out from competitors?
“Being digital is not a new theme or buzzword for Lonely Planet. Lonely Planet has always been an early adopter of technology. In fact, it is has had a website for over 23 years now (here’s one of the first images captured by the internet archived here). Lonely Planet also built one of the first and most beautiful mobile apps in the travel category and has constantly experimented with the newest and latest technologies. Historically, our digital presence has existed to support our print business, and that is exactly what we are aiming to shift right now.
Understanding what is Lonely Planet’s current opportunity and right to win in the digital space took careful and intense consideration. Some argue that it had a right to become a predominant Online Travel Agency (OTA) back in the early 2000s, while others believe that Lonely Planet should have moved more aggressively into the User Generated Content (UGC) and reviews space. The truth today is that those are crowded spaces, and were not necessarily the best fit for Lonely Planet. Yet, the question remains: ‘What are the unmet needs that Lonely Planet can rightfully fulfill?’
In order to come up with an answer, we performed ethnographic studies to deeply understand the relationship between our brand and travelers. We talked to brand advocates and frequent travelers, occasional travelers, and even people who recognize the brand but admit to having never been users of our brand before. The answers were very consistent- Lonely planet is considered a travel authority and has very high brand esteem across the board. In other words, no one has a bad thing to say about Lonely Planet.
We even performed a few quantitative studies to understand the level of awareness of our brand, and we found out that our awareness is pretty close to those who spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year to keep their brand top of mind. We spend zero on this. This quickly initiated a train of thoughts on how could we leverage such a brand stature if we were a startup. If we were to launch a new company today that sits on top of such a rich heritage, what would we do? And that's exactly the way we are trying to embrace our new chapter in the digital space.”
What were the predominant factors that lead to choosing Acquia as a technology partner?
“To revamp our digital presence, we first decided to stop developing custom software and implement best-in-breed solutions. That change in mindset (to become operators and not software developers) was perhaps one of the biggest challenges we faced early on.
With over two million pages of content, finding an enterprise-grade Content Management System (CMS) was a critical piece of the puzzle. After evaluating many different alternatives, we found Acquia to be a great fit because it is an open-source platform that gives us digital freedom and flexibility to integrate with our existing systems while allowing us to extend and integrate new systems. With Acquia, we will be able to focus on operating and optimizing our users’ experience while maintaining the freedom to continue integrating new technologies and features.
Our goal is to provide each user with the best digital experience we can assemble. We sit on top of one of the largest databases of curated travel content on earth and have access and connections with most of the players in the industry. Shouldn't we put that to work in favor of our users?
We will achieve this by enabling highly personalized experiences that serve content, functionality, and offers that are specifically tailored for each particular user at a specific time. By continuously analyzing our users’ interactions with our content and services, we will be able to develop insights and then create personalized experiences and offers that are highly relevant.
We recognize that travel needs change from person to person, and this updated digital approach allows us to think about our users based on their travel need-state rather than specific broad-spectrum groups. This also helps us problem-solve ahead of time and enrich travelers’ experiences at any point in their journey.”
In the press release, you say that partnering with Acquia allowed Lonely Planet to create, “one of the most transformative impacts on the digital travel industry from a user perspective.” Can you elaborate on how working with Acquia has enabled you to create this impact?
“As an industry, we all need to better adapt to the way people travel today. The travel journey is no longer linear, it morphs and shifts based on personal context, type of expense—e.g., macro (airfare) vs. micro (food), unexpected changes and new information along the way. Sometimes an Instagram picture triggers an unplanned trip, and we increasingly see people booking an experience even before booking a flight or hotel.
We aim to have such a big impact by enabling highly personalized experiences that serve content, functionality, and offers that are specifically tailored for each particular user at a specific time. By continuously analyzing our users’ interactions with our content and services, we will be able to develop insights and then create personalized experiences and offers that are highly relevant.
We not only want Lonely Planet to transcend the physical constraints of a printed book, we are constantly exploring opportunities beyond web and mobile, like Virtual and Augmented reality in the now called Spatial Computing space.”
How important is it to you for your customers to have a personalized experience on your site? Do you feel that Acquia Lift has empowered you to create the best experience for your customers?
“The concept of delivering the right message to the right customer, at the right time, and via the right channel has been around for some time; we just haven't been able to activate it in full motion. Our mission remains to help you have amazing experiences; we just want to sync with your travel needs and remain as a trusted travel companion before, during, and after your trips.
True personalization needs to go beyond audiences and look-alikes, and Acquia will allow us to do exactly that. We realize, in the current digital age, how valuable each of our users’ time is. With the ability to provide unique and personalized experiences for each visitor to our site, we can more efficiently sync with travelers’ needs, whether that’s helping to identify a great place to stay, inspiring them to try out a new activity, or sourcing a list of restaurants which serve just what they’re craving.
Further, personalization is only the beginning. Acquia technology will allow us to cross-reference users’ behaviors with multiple sources of data and adopt a richer customer-centric marketing approach.”
The advancements that are going to be made available to Lonely Planet through its digital transformation, as supported by their Acquia partnership, are compelling and highly valuable for the travel company. The thought of AR/AI being brought in to the industry, as Luis has suggested, fascinates me. I can imagine virtually touring an accommodation before deciding to book. I anticipate that these technological advancements with Lonely Planet’s site and app will be extremely helpful, and I will surely be using them as resources on my next trip. Still, even when using my mobile device abroad, I will affectionately reflect on my memories of flipping through those trustworthy paperback companions while on my train journeys — ever eager to explore my next destination.