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
Bearing in mind Haystack is still "developing" take a look at the entry (one of only two they have for Bangkok) for Big John's. It contains directions (seemingly supplied by the guesthouse owner despite the review noted as being by an LP author) on how to get there from a "domestic airport" that closed almost 6 months ago.
Granted it's very difficult to keep details up-to-date, but as a "launch listing" it doesn't bode well -- hell they only had to check 390 listings!
One solution would be if the listing stated when the property was visited by Ms Hart ... but then it would be great if they did that in their books as well.
I just wonder how LP can continue to try and maintain it's 'independent/unbiased' reputation with moves like this. It's all good and well when you are using a third party application and tying in your reviews, but when you actually own and run the booking system, you have to wonder how independent the reviews are going to be. This and the constant addition of more ads to their site kind of has me questioning their long term goals and focus online. From a development point of view though, I'm always impressed with the LP website and how quick they seem to update. Good design too!
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