Lonely Planet guidebooks revolutionized travel & reinvented the guidebook genre in the same way that Cirque du Soleil reinvented the circus.
Starting on a kitchen table in 1972, the Australian company grew quickly to dominate the industry overcoming many long-established competitors.
What did Lonely Planet do right?
The best maps
Focus on good value at all price ranges
Support of ecologically sensitive vendors
Support of indigenous vendors over outsiders
Top 10 lists
Lonely Planet holds people to account. If vendors cheat or misrepresent to travellers, they do so at their peril. In some cases businesses close after LP gives a bad review or even drops a listing.
And brutally accurate write-ups. While they have gotten softer over the years, my current Central America on a Shoestring still includes:
TOP FIVE BASTARDS
… Those who have wrecked havoc on Central America. A Hall of Shame:
1) Pedro Arias de Avila – bishop-murdering Spanish founder of Panama City
2) Pedro de Alvarado – Spaniard whose burning of captives in the 1520s disturbed even Cortes
3) Alonso de Caceres – Spaniard who called fake truce in 1537 to murder Honduran indigenous leader Lempira
4) William Walker – bully American in 1850s who tried to take over Central America
5) Ronald Reagan – US president of 1980s who broke records for outside intervention
Other travel guidebooks were inferior. I recall the horrible Lets Go Europe we carried in 1976. And the stupendously useless Rough Guide China (1st edition) I foolishly did not throw in the dumpster in 1998.
Now in a very few regions there are good competitors; the best example being the South American Handbook (now Footprint guides).
Thence I was shocked (as you might imagine) to stumble on to Moon Handbooks Baja — a better guidebook than Lonely Planet! Why so? For one thing it is authored by Joe Cummings, the legendary lead writer for Lonely Planet in the early years. When Mick Jagger wanted a guide for his entourage in Thailand, he phoned Joe.
I’ve started to browse other travel guidebooks recently and been very pleasantly surprised. They have improved. Most by copying LPs format and style.
It reminds me how Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL search engines exactly copied Google and, as a result, are starting to improve. Have you seen the prettiest Google imitator? Ask.com
I may finally (faintly) consider alternative guidebooks in future.