BBC Worldwide eyes travel with Lonely Planet stake

Publisher's content woos b'caster

BBC Worldwide on Monday announced the acquisition of a majority stake in Melbourne-based global travel publisher Lonely Planet Publications, increasing its supply of travel-related digital content and marking its second Australian acquisition in eight months.

Lonely Planet, regarded as an authoritative resource for the independent traveler worldwide, publishes more than 500 travel guides; produces travel documentaries, including its flagship series "Lonely Planet Six Degrees," for Discovery Channel; runs a social networking-style Web site (www.lonely for the travel community; and has operations in the U.S., Australia and the U.K.

"This deal fits well with our strategy to create one of the world's leading content businesses, to grow our portfolio of content brands online and to increase our operations in Australia and America," BBC Worldwide CEO John Smith said.

In the deal, BBC Worldwide becomes the majority shareholder with a 75% stake, while Lonely Planet founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler retain a 25% stake in the company they started in 1972.

Australian media investor John Singleton, who held 30% of the company, sold his interest. The purchase price of the privately held company was not disclosed.

The Wheelers said "it was time for Lonely Planet to take a big step into the future" through the development of its noncore assets to "get a lot more energy and push" under the new deal.

"Joining with BBC Worldwide allows us to secure the long-term future of our company within a globally recognized media group," they said.

Lonely Planet will maintain its Melbourne headquarters, and CEO Judy Slatyer and the current management team will remain, Smith said.

BBC Worldwide chairman Etienne de Villiers added that "the association will strengthen Lonely Planet's visibility and growth potential, particularly in the digital arena, as well as providing their users access to the wide range of BBC content that connects with their interests — from 'Michael Palin's New Europe' to 'Planet Earth.' "

The deal comes eight months after BBC Worldwide acquired a 2% stake in local production outfit the Freehand Group.