How Lonely Planet revamped its online travel platform to supercharge customisation

Renowned travel guide publisher looks to boost website experience with responsive, targeted content for consumers

Lonely Planet, home to one of the largest collections of curated travel experiences online, has recently revamped its digital platform to enable highly personalised travel content and related travel deals and offers.

According to CEO and president, Luis Cabrera, the company was looking to respond to users’ travel need-state, rather than specific broad spectrum groups. The aim was to problem-solve ahead of time and enrich travellers experiences at any point in their journey.

It was clear getting to that point meant overhauling the digital foundations. In Lonely Planet's case, that first step was letting go of developing custom software and instead adopting a best-in-breed solution for its more than 2 million pages of content. The company has rolled out open source CMS platform, Acquia, to further this cause.

“We found Acquia to be a great fit because as an open source platform, it gives us digital freedom and flexibility to integrate with our existing systems, while allowing us to extend and integrate new systems,” he said.

For example, instead of requiring users to filter and narrow down their criteria when searching online, the Lonely Planet site will now respond to cues already provided such as location, travel dates, type or accommodation and proactively present more relevant content and offers.

“Having the ability to quickly provide this information is crucial in a time when many users demand instant answers and prefer short lists over long narratives,” said Cabrera.

Specifically, Lonely Planet is utilising Acquia’s recently released Web personalisation tool, Acquia Lift. The unified user interface lets marketers execute profile management, segmentation and personalisation activities in a single place and launch them across a network of websites.

For the travel guide publisher, adopting Acquia Lift is a multi-step process which started with improving website loading speed and the accuracy of the search results. Navigation will then improve to make it easier to drill down to the content that is of their interest to users with related deals. 

The holy grail is the virtual content editor behind the scenes on the site “to anticipate and surface up content and features that are uniquely relevant for you,” said Cabrera. “We will then constantly adjust our offerings and products to reflect this intent.”

Personalisation the key

For the long-time travel media company, which started life as a humble backpacking guide for travelling on the cheap through South-East Asia, improving personalisation is only the beginning. Lonely Planet is looking to continue to draw on multiple sources of data and adopt a richer customer-centric marketing approach that responds to the changing nature of travel.

“The travel journey is no longer linear, it morphs and shifts based on personal context, type of expense, like macro such as airfare, to the micro such as food, and unexpected changes and new information along the way," Cabrera commented. "Sometimes an Instagram picture triggers an unplanned trip and we increasingly see people booking an experience even before booking a flight or hotel.” 

Addressing any privacy concerns, Cabrera said data will be anonymised and users control of how much data they share. First-party data, such as navigation patterns, places of interest, hesitation scores and bounce rate, will be processed at an individual level and “programmatically anticipate the next best piece of content or functionality” to be responsive.

It's a landscape radically different from when Lonely Planet debuted in 1973 with its first stapled guidebook. But Cabrera said its guiding light - inspiring people on their travels - remains the same.

“The concept of delivering the right message to the right customer at the right time and via the right channel has been around for some time, we just haven't been able to activate it properly," he said. "Our mission remains to help you have amazing experiences, we just want to sync with your travel needs and remain as a trusted travel companion before, during and after your trips.”

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