Lonely Planet: Piracy doesn't bother us

Travel company Lonely Planet says it is handling piracy by moving beyond commodified information to something more valuable: Advice.

If your business is being chipped away by internet piracy, what do you do? If you're travel company Lonely Planet, you decide that your torrented travel books are the best marketing you can have, and you move from the "information" business to the "advice" business.

According to Lonely Planet's CTO and CIO, Gus Balbontin, theft of its intellectual property is something that the company has battled for 40 years and predates the mainstreaming of peer-to-peer pirating and content sharing.

"Categorically, [piracy] does not bother us," Balbontin told ZDNet. "Back in the day, and even still today, you can go to Vietnam and find photocopies of our guides. And we love that.

"I don't think there is really any damage in terms of sales. If anything, it projects our brand further."

There's also something in Lonely Planet's backpacker DNA that has allowed the company to take a more relaxed approach to the theft of its intellectual property, Balbontin said.

"A peculiarity about travel has to do with the desire to reduce fear as you step away from your comfort zone," he said. "When you do that, you expand the things you can trust and feel comfortable with."

Balbontin said that Lonely Planet's approach has been to tackle piracy through creating better products that its consumers trust, which avoid much of the commodification of travel information that has occurred in recent years, and which consumers will actually pay for.

"The thing is that Lonely Planet doesn't trade in information; it trades in advice," he said. "Information is everywhere, but advice isn't. We say to people: 'You have 10 days, here is what you do.' That is very different to saying, 'here is everything that can be done: You choose.'

"The information is a commodity. The advice is not. If you came to Melbourne, I could show you 40 beaches you could go surfing, or I could show you the one you have to surf. There is a difference there. People spend a lot of money on their holidays, and they don't want to come back thinking that they missed things.

"We generate that advice with selective humans. We don't just aggregate. We are the biggest [travel company] that can do that still today, and we have shown that over the last 10 years."

While he was unwilling to reveal specific plans for transitioning Lonely Planet from print to digital, Balbontin said a logical direction for the company to move is in providing close to real-time travel information and advice via smartphones and tablets.

Additionally, the company could also potentially leverage its reputation for advice with its online site to create online travel packages and itineraries.

"Lonely Planet is going through a transition," he said. "We are still seen as a backpacking company, and we have to shake that. We want to be a travel company that provides all kinds of experiences."

The company is also transitioning the way it handles its business processes. Specifically, it is seeking to transition to cloud computing as part of a broader IT strategy to become flexible and nimble.

The company plans to deploy NetSuite OneWorld to replace SAP R/3 4.7 and Salesforce.com as its new business management software. The new software will globally handle the company's financials, customer relationship management (CRM), demand planning, project management, warehousing, and manufacturing.