BBC completes guide book takeover

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The BBC has completed its takeover of the Lonely Planet travel guides

BBC Worldwide has bought the remaining 25% stake in travel guide Lonely Planet that it does not already own for £42.1 million.

Lonely Planet founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler, who launched the Australian travel publisher in 1973, sold their shareholding under an option agreed when the BBC’s commercial arm snapped up 75% of the company for £88.1 million in 2007.

Marcus Arthur, chairman of Lonely Planet and managing director of BBC Worldwide Global Brands, said: “The put option enabled us to benefit from the Wheelers’ experience over the last three-and-a-half years.

“They have supported Lonely Planet’s ongoing migration from a traditional book publisher to a multi-platform brand. I would like to wish them the very best in the next phase of their lives.”

It is understood that while Mr and Mrs Wheeler no longer have a stake or management role, they will continue to act as brand ambassadors on an ad hoc basis.

Mr and Mrs Wheeler said: “The last three years have seen Lonely Planet embark on a journey of its own – giving its users and readers ever more choice and utility. We wish the business and the Lonely Planet community every success in the future.”

Lonely Planet has bounced back from difficult market conditions that took their toll after BBC Worldwide bought the firm.

The group has been leading a push to grow digital revenues – a tactic that has paid off with non-print revenue up from 9% when bought by BBC Worldwide to 22% in the year to the end of last March, helped by the launch of travel applications for smartphones. The print operation has also been boosted in the past few years by the launch of the Lonely Planet magazine in 2008.

Figures published showed the magazine – which now has eight editions globally – grew its UK and Ireland circulation by 33.4% year on year to 60,106 in the final six months of 2010.

But BBC Worldwide’s takeover in 2007 sparked controversy that the deal went beyond its remit of focusing on activities with a direct link to the broadcaster’s brands. Its internal regulator, the BBC Trust, ruled in 2009 after an 18-month review that BBC Worldwide must only make such acquisitions in exceptional circumstances in the future.

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