Lonely Planet exits China, sparking nostalgia among netizens

On 26 June, Lonely Planet’s WeChat official account, released an article stating, “Due to the impact of the past Covid-19 pandemic and the company’s strategic adjustments, Lonely Planet closed its office in China and ceased its publishing business in China. All of Lonely Planet’s official social media accounts in China, including WeChat, Weibo (China’s Twitter equivalent), Xiaohongshu (RED), and Zhihu (China’s Quora equivalent), have stopped updating.”

This announcement follows the cessation of the Chinese edition of the Lonely Planet magazine in 2022. However, users can still purchase previously published Chinese titles on platforms such as JD.com, Dangdang, and Duozhua Fish. Since 2013, Lonely Planet has published over 300 Chinese-language travel guides and travel reading materials in China, achieving cumulative sales of millions of copies.

Lonely Planet is the world’s largest publisher of privately-owned travel guides. The company has never featured advertisements in its guidebooks and insists on using environmentally certified printers and paper. The closure has prompted many netizens to express their nostalgia on social media. The Weibo hashtag #Lonely Planet all official social media accounts have ceased to operate# (孤独星球所有官方社媒账号已停更) garnered 4.18 million views.

One netizen commented, “Lonely Planet used to be the essential reading material for young people who wanted to be backpackers and one of the most widely recognised travel guides of its time. Unfortunately, it has not adapted to today’s pace of life. The young people who aspired to faraway places at the beginning have been caught up in the adult world of work flavour (班味) and can’t breathe.”

Other users have compared Lonely Planet to the social media platform Xiaohongshu. Xiaohongshu, which focuses on pictures and short videos, has a high level of user activity and interactivity, making it an important channel for the travel industry. However, the two most common words on Xiaohongshu are “avoiding troubles” (避雷), as many users avoid things that do not fit with them and are considered “troubles” according to their own preferences, leading to posts that are not impartial or objective. Additionally, many users receive advertising fees from merchants before posting, which can interfere with the usual audience of users viewing the guide. Netizens believe that travelling with a Lonely Planet book adds a random and unexpected element that makes the trip more interesting.

However, Lonely Planet’s reputation overseas is slipping. Since being acquired by parent company Red Ventures for about $50 million in 2020, it has focused solely on cost-cutting in recent years and has even made heavy use of AI-generated content to populate its pages. In the travel space, less lucrative products such as travel forums have been shut down, the pre-acquisition editorial team has been rotated several times, and the quality of the content has significantly declined.

Perhaps the biggest impact of Lonely Planet’s closure has been on foreign tourists travelling to China. This year, #Chinatravel# has become a hot topic, with many foreign tourists taking advantage of China’s relaxed visa policy. Most travellers visiting China alone carry a paper copy of Lonely Planet, or download TripAdvisor, Quora, and watch travel itineraries recommended by influencers on YouTube. However, due to the shutdown of Lonely Planet, the web version of travelling in China is stuck in February this year, and the information is no longer relevant. Similar issues occur on TripAdvisor, Quora, and YouTube, where the recommended routes are generic, lacking recommendations for the newest and most interesting places to visit.


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