Lonely Planet’s Dublin office survives but Cara magazine in hiatus
Travel publishing turned upside down from the impact of Covid-19
Lonely Planet travel guides: With closures elsewhere in the group, the Dublin office will now take on an expanded role. Photograph: Daniel Acker/ Bloomberg
As global travel began to shut down in the early days of the pandemic, Lonely Planet, the travel guide publisher, acted swiftly and brutally. The US-based company announced on April 9th office closures and redundancies across the group in its Melbourne, London, Dublin and US bases, with no changes to the company’s operations in India or China.
As consultation with some staff is still ongoing, the company – Lonely Planet is owned by Nashville-based NC2 Media – will not release figures but local Australian media has reported the loss of 80 jobs in the Melbourne office alone.
The swift action was, according to the company, “about ensuring Lonely Planet can continue in a much-changed industry”.
The idea of picking up a magazine that had been touched by a hundred people before you belongs firmly in the pre-coronavirus world
Lonely Planet will continue publishing its country guidebooks with its instantly recognisable blue spines, as well as its extensive range of phrasebooks, its “inspiration titles” giving holiday and destination ideas, a children’s range and it will further develop its guides app and website.
Gone, though, are ancillary titles such as coffee table books, and the Lonely Planet glossy magazine.
The Dublin office has survived the worst of the cull, albeit with some redundancies, and with expanded roles for the remaining staff.
According to Nóirín Hegarty, vice-president of digital content, seven staff have been made redundant in Dublin – in administration, finance and from the software developer team – with a staff of 18 remaining. In addition, hundreds of freelance content creators who are commissioned from Dublin and Nashville have seen their work disappear not least because, as Hegarty notes, “travel is not currently safe and many countries are still in lockdown”.
The office is based in the Digital Hub since 2015 when Hegarty – whose previous roles include editor of the Sunday Tribune and who had been working in London for Lonely Planet – moved home to set up the Dublin office with a focus on developing and growing the brand’s digital footprint. Since 2019 her own role within the company has grown and, as vice-president, she has responsibility for teams in Dublin, London and the US delivering content to the Lonely Planet website’s 14 million unique monthly users.
With closures elsewhere in the group, the Dublin office will now take on an expanded role. “The Melbourne office was previously the main print hub for the business and that is in the process of closing,” says Hegarty. “The Dublin print team has taken over any ongoing work on books but we have suspended all on-the-ground research and the launch of any new books until at least October 2020.”
In addition, “the Dublin and US digital content teams are absorbing the work of seven people in London and one in New York who also left the business as a result of Covid-19”.
The closure of the Melbourne office will also be an emotional blow for the brand which has experienced many changes in recent years. It was founded in Australia in 1973 by Tony and Maureen Wheeler, then a young couple who had travelled from the UK through Europe and Asia with backpacks and saw the opportunity for a travel guide written by people who had been there, on the ground.
It quickly expanded in line with the exponential growth in travel to become the go-to guides for destinations worldwide. In a boomtime deal, BBC Worldwide purchased a 75 per cent stake in Lonely Planet in 2007 before acquiring the remaining share from the Wheelers in 2011 and then selling it on at a loss, estimated at more than €90 million, to NC2 Media.
As for the printed guides, the books that line the shelves of travellers everywhere, the brand remains committed to print with the Lonely Planet US head office saying in a cautionary note: “In time, the robust market for print guides will rebound, though there are so many variables in that, putting a timescale or any other indicator on recovery is premature.”
The April-May edition of Cara, the Aer Lingus in-flight magazine, was not printed – not enough passengers on too few flights to make it viable – with the company now in consultation with the publishers, Image Publications, which produces the stylish glossy eight times a year under contract.
Its proposition for advertisers, particularly in the hospitality and car hire sectors was obvious; last year Aer Lingus carried more than 11 million passengers, each with a copy of Cara in the pocket of the seat in front of them. However, the carrier has revised its initial worse-case schedule scenario of flying 15 per cent of its normal flights in June down to an even grimmer 5 per cent.
Even if the full fleet came back tomorrow, and international borders were open, the idea of picking up a magazine that had been touched by a hundred people before you, in a seat pocket that could harbour all kinds of germs, belongs firmly in the pre-coronavirus world.
Ryanair faces the same problem with physical editions of its in-flight sales magazine, Runway Retail. As well as a suspicion of glossy paper and the germs it might carry, post-lockdown travellers will be reluctant to touch any type of screen other than their own telephone. This poses issues for all in-flight entertainment so it’s likely both carriers will have to rely on their apps to carry their magazines in the foreseeable future.
Though for advertisers, that’s a very different, less appealing sell.