What's the future for travel guidebooks?

It's not game over for guidebooks just yet. Photo / iStock
It's not game over for guidebooks just yet. Photo / iStock

At one time, guidebooks were considered indispensable to travellers and enjoyed pride of place in suitcases alongside passports.

But the growth of online and digital products has led to the demise of printed editions, and recently Time Out confirmed it would cease publication of its Time Out Guides in 2016.

So is this the end of an era? Could the load of carrying a weighty, dog-eared Lonely Planet in your backpack be lightened by mobile phones stocked with space age apps?

Surprisingly, it's not game over just yet. According to an article in the January edition of The Bookseller, travel guide publishers have been shown a glimmer of hope after the genre experienced a surge in sales for the first time in seven years.

Figures from Neilsen BookScan reveal that although the market has been in decline since 2007, with sales dropping to an all-time low of 59 million in 2012-2014, there was some growth in 2015 with travel and holiday guides up 1.1 per cent.

One entrepreneur who's enjoying surprising success is Rene Fey, new chief executive of APA, publishers of the popular Insight Guides series, who has revolutionised the way the company does business.

APA has diversified to become an online travel marketplace, providing direct links to a multitude of verified local operators, allowing users to benefit from the services of local experts in a safe booking environment.

There are currently 20 destinations and 120 trips on offer, although Fey plans to extend this to 250 trips in 30 destinations by the end of March, and has even described the company as being "the Uber of travel, connecting travellers with local travel suppliers".

Although the new booking service marks a new direction for the company, now in its 45th year, printed guidebooks are still very much a part of the future game plan.

This year, 100 new titles and new editions are planned, adding to the 400 publications already in print. Fey hopes that by offering a free app and ebook with every print edition, customers will be incentivised to use books for holiday planning at home and easily transportable digital material while on the move.

The travel guidebook may be appearing in multiple guises, demonstrating the genre is anything but redundant.

- AAP

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