I am late to report their newest efforts - the launch of an invitation only online accommodation site, the HayStack. There theory behind the site (according to eyefortravel) is to limit the available properties to those reviewed by Lonely Planet reviewers. From the press release this means
"Haystack launches with over 390 properties from 20 countries and will develop rapidly from launch."This sounds like a good idea - a way for customers to book reviewed hotels online. But I think it is too little too late. Lonely planet was founded in 1984. Online travel took off in 1995. Online travel became a serious business in 2000 (with Travelocity's acquisition of Preview Travel). Launching a booking product in Dec 2006 is at least 6 years too late for Lonely Planet.
I want Lonely Planet to "win" online as I have so many fantastic travel memories from by backpacking youth that involved a Lonely Planet book by my side. I should also give them some credit for launching new products on a regular basis. But the next generation of backpackers all own mobile phone and will all have accounts with the large scale community and review sites (the Tripadvisors and WAYNs of the world) connected to their phones and local internet cafe, reducing the relevance and need for a Lonely Planet book tucked in the back pocket.
UPDATE - have just read the interesting post on the Compete blog analysing the (limited) traffic flows from the Lonely Planet main site to the Haystack booking engine. Makes for interesting reading