Business overview of Lonely Planet company

This case study is about the organization Lonely Planet – its company history, corporate achievements, as well as its early stage and present-day management structure. To begin with, Lonely Planet was established in the early 1970’s by Tony and Maureen Wheeler. It began with only two. Hence, the company’s management was entirely at their liberty. In 1981, when their second publication emerged as best-seller, Lonely Planet only consisted of ten staff. Thus, they decided to reorganise the company. At present, Lonely Planet publishes at least 650 guidebooks and employs 400 staff internationally. Furthermore, around 150 authors travel and write worldwide. Thus, communication and coordination is essential in running these activities. For instance, each office is responsible for its respective region’s sales and marketing efforts. Next, a regional warehouse distributes book titles to booksellers within the area. Furthermore, communication with the help of Internet, between offices and with local writers, is vital for maintaining consistency among marketing messages. To date, the Wheelers still have a significant influence here. Thus, employees like how the company is managed. In conclusion, those working here are passionate about travelling. Hence, besides some minor setbacks, there are many opportunities at Lonely Planet, especially for avid travellers.


What is Lonely Planet? Lonely Planet is the biggest and most renowned travel guidebook and digital media publisher in the world. (Wikipedia 2010) It was founded by British couple – Tony and Maureen Wheeler in 1972. To begin with, the unique name was derived from a misheard line in a song entitled “Space Captain”. They misheard ‘lovely planet’ for ‘lonely planet’, but liked it anyhow, thus they named it as such. (Wikipedia 2010)

It all began on their honeymoon, when they decided to embark on a seemingly impossible journey during that time. They travelled overland over Europe and Asia to Australia. It took several months and almost all of their money. After the trip, many people questioned about their journey, thus this inspired them to turn their experience into a travel guide – Across Asia on the Cheap. This was written on their kitchen table and was all done by hand. They printed 1500 copies, distributed it to bookshops in Sydney and were completely sold out within the first week. (Company history 2010) Needless to say, it was only the beginning, yet already hugely successful.

Then, in the 1990s, they expanded to Europe and North America. Also, its target customers expanded from budget-tight backpackers to the mainstream and well-to-do travellers. (Company history 2010) At present, Lonely Planet is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. It publishes around 500 titles in 8 languages with over 500 employees and 350 authors around the globe. It now produces travel guides with specific themes, TV programmes, a monthly magazine, mobile phone applications, and a website. (Wikipedia 2010)

As of October 2007, a 75% share of the company belongs to BBC Worldwide, while the remaining 25% is retained by the Wheelers. This is because they want to devout more time travelling and also engaging in charity work. (BBC Buys Lonely Planet 2007) Nonetheless, they are still very much a part of the company and continually believe that the company’s fundamental principles and values will be upheld, and that Lonely Planet will grow more than ever.

Question 1

Describe the organization culture of Lonely Planet.

Organisation culture is sometimes called the corporate culture. It is the systems of shared beliefs and values that develops within an organisation and guides the behaviour of its members (Campling et al. 2007). An organisation with strong cultures always commits members to do things that are in the best interests of the organisation. Besides, they show respect for members and encourage adaptability and continuous improvement in all areas of operations.

Lonely Planet has the characteristics of strong cultures, such as performance oriented, emphasise teamwork, allow for risk taking, encourage innovation and make the well-being of people a top management priority. Lonely Planet has 400 employees in offices in 4 countries: Melbourne, London, Paris, and Oakland, California. Each office will responsible for all sales and marketing efforts for its own region. Although their relative independence, the offices must communicate with each other. This shows they are emphasise on teamwork. On the other hand, Lonely Planet encourages innovation. It not only publishes travel guide books, it also publishes other guidebooks; for example budget guides, international food guides, specializes activity guides and phrasebook. Employees in Lonely Planet said that they liked the way the company is organized and it contains excitement of working for a multinational but without any complexity of bureaucracy.

Organisational culture usually describe in two levels which is observable culture and core culture. The first level is observable culture, is what one sees hears when walking around an organization (Campling et al. 2007). In observable culture, it includes the elements of daily organizational life like stories, heroes, rites and rituals and symbols. Even though the offices are at different countries, the owner of Lonely Planet Tony and Maureen Wheeler are still visiting their offices and maintaining contact with the employees. As well, the manager of company use internet to communicate and to keep updating the marketing messages.

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Core culture is the second level of organisational level. It consists of core values or underlying assumptions and beliefs that influence behaviour and actually give rise to the aspects of observable culture (Campling et al. 2007). Core values establish the foundation of the culture. Core values determine whether people work in an open and trusting environment where opinions are valued, or in an environment that is tainted by suspicion and tension. In addition, as a leader of Lonely Planet, Tony and Maureen Wheeler did establish and maintain appropriate core values by using the three criteria to evaluate core values; relevance, pervasiveness and strengths. Relevance is the core value should support key performance objectives. In pervasiveness, core value should be known by all members of an organisation and strengths means core values should be accepted by everyone involve.

To conclude, the internal environment of organisations includes organisational culture, which establish a personality for the organisation as a whole and has a strong influence on the behaviour of its members. Workers in Lonely Planet work in a team to achieve the goals and they make the well being of people a top management priority.

Question 2

Does Lonely Planet have an adaptive culture or a non-adaptive organizational culture? Explain.

Adaptive organizational culture could be address as strong culture that provides clear, well-defined, and equally shared organization interests among members. They are more performance-oriented; emphasize teamwork, risk taking, innovation and value on well being of people. Moreover, organizations with adaptive cultures are said to be having healthy and more constructive culture as they are more adoptable to the changes in environment and in existing highly competitive market. All these characteristics serves well as a strong foundation for companies to develop immediate strategies, business context, and it also serves well as guidelines for company to implement profitability changes (OCI, Adaptive and non-adaptive culture). Members under adaptive organizational culture are also committed to do things for organization’s best interest and they will reinforce these habits (Campling et al. 2007). Each member show respect to each other, and adaptability, continuous improvement in all area of operations was encouraged. However, the non-adaptive culture is considered more defensive as they resist changes to protect their current status and security in the organization. Members working in non-adaptive organizational culture are arrogant and working bureaucratically (OCI, Adaptive and non-adaptive culture). Hence, all these had halted the company to change.

According to this case study, our group thinks that Lonely Planet is an organization with adaptive culture. First of all, all employees here share common interests with the organization and the organization wants employees to be committed and work for the company’s best interest. This can be proven as the employees who work at Lonely Planet all loves to travel and they favor the way the company is organized. Employees gain working satisfaction and excitement through their job. Most importantly, employees are able to adapt to the non bureaucratic working method. In addition, the positive habits such as, commitments and the passion on employees’ job are to be encouraged and reinforced, as they are the positive motivator to productivity; and these positive ones will be able to discourage certain employees dysfunctional work behavior.

Moving on, the founders of Lonely Planet who are Tony and Maureen Wheeler are risks takers. At first they never intend to form the company as their main interest were just to publish guidebook and finance their next trip. And as stated in the text, they did not think about the organization before. However, upon publishing the Lonely Planet India which was awarded as a best-seller, they slowly hired staffs and they knew it was time to get started and organize. Therefore, their spontaneous plan of organizing Lonely Planet just happened naturally and even without planning, the Wheelers are still willing to give it a try and take the risk of forming a company.

Moreover the Wheelers are rich in innovation. After establishing the organization, they had cultivated more of innovation and slowly broadened their scope discussed in the guidebooks. From the simplest normal guidebook and now publishing budget guides, food guides, specialized activity guidebook, phrasebook and so on, up to date, they had published more than 650 guidebooks and they have many authors that are still travelling all around the world and were writing for Lonely Planet publication.

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Apart from that, Lonely Planet is performance-oriented, believes in empowerment, and they also emphasize teamwork. Employees stated that the company is large, but when it comes to internal job assignation and task sharing, the company seems to be small as all branches staffs are working with other offices such as, at Melbourne or Pairs. Moreover, the Wheelers also work closely with the companies located worldwide through visiting. Besides that, they are very visible in the organization and often keep in contact with employees on organization’s latest happenings. Wheelers also empowered employees to carry out certain work tasks and they trust the employees quite well.

Apart from the strong culture characteristics, certain features of the entrepreneurial culture also attributed Lonely Planet as the adaptive cultural organizations. Such as, treat employees with respect and doors to communication are widely opened (Entrepreneurship, Creating an entrepreneurial culture). In this case, the Wheelers and employees under the company are all having good communication and effective interaction upon handling jobs with different branches worldwide. In addition of that, the organization also reinforces the sociability of employees to improve work performance.

In short, Lonely Planet characterized by the adaptive organizational culture gives them the characteristic of employees with common interests with organization; company with non bureaucratic structure; founders are risk takers and with innovative ideas; company based are performance-oriented, requires teamwork and empowerment. Apart from that the features are also similar to the entrepreneurial culture, such as by treating employees with respect, reinforces communication and sociability among employees and superior. Organizations with strong cultures or adaptive culture will provide them with a clearer vision, assist the mobilizing and allocation of resources to fulfill or accomplish the tasks in long run.

Question 3

Would you describe Lonely Planet’s communication network as a centralized network or a decentralized network?

Communication is known as the process of sending and receiving symbols with meaning attached from sender to receiver through a communication channel (Campling et al. 2007). There are three types of interaction patterns and communication networks which are available and commonly used in organizations. Firstly, a decentralized communication network which also known as all-channel or star communication network allows all members in an organization to communicate directly with one another without any barriers (Campling et al. 2007). These interacting groups who practice this communication network usually have high interdependency around a common task and best at complex tasks (Campling et al. 2007).

Another would be centralized communication network which also known as wheel or chain communication network. Communication flows between individual members and a hub or centre point in this network. It involves of coacting groups and they are independent individuals who work on tasks divided up among them independently (Campling et al. 2007). They are best at simple tasks. The last communication network is the restricted communication network and it consists of counteracting groups. They are subgroups in disagreement with one another and usually slow in accomplishing tasks in an organization as they are often limited and biased (Campling et al. 2007).

In our opinion, we would describe Lonely Planet’s communication network as a decentralized network as well as a centralized network. David Zingarelli, managing editor of Lonely Planet USA has stated that the local writers are great assets to the company. According to David, “Being able to meet with them in person and cultivate a relationship is a great advantage.” This shows that there is a close coordination of communication between managing editor and local writers. The local writers are thus able to communicate with the higher level managers directly without going through a third person. Hence, the writers can build strong relationships with directors and discuss matters with them and address any company issues. This is an example of a decentralized communication network.

Besides that, despite of their relative independence, the offices are required to communicate with each other. Managers rely on Internet to make direct communication with other offices and this creates a consistency among marketing messages. With the help of new technology, employees from different countries are able to share information directly with each other without having to go through a hub or centre point. It is important for offices to communicate with each other and not only act independently because each office may have different knowledge or information that must be shared with other offices. For example, the offices in Melbourne, London, Paris, and California communicate with each other regularly to obtain information and maintain coordination; and they do so without having to go through headquarters, but directly among each office.

In addition, the passage in the case study which states that – “Tony and Maureen Wheeler are still very much a presence in the company, visiting its worldwide offices and maintaining contact with many employees” is another evidence that Lonely Planet uses a decentralized communication network. This is because the owners of the company, Tony and Maureen, are communicating with their employees directly by visiting each of the offices regularly. This helps the owners to know and learn better of the situation of the company as well as improve their relationship with employees. On the other hand, the employees are also able to participate in making decisions and provide their point of views when discussing and communicating with the Wheelers.

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On the other hand, from the passage we know that although regional offices may commission books for their areas, however Lonely Planet USA commissions all the books for North and South America, as well as Central America. The headquarters in Australia actually produces all of the books. This shows that the organization uses centralized network in order to reduce costs by keeping cartographers and designers under one roof and to ensure that books are produced in a consistent fashion. In this case, activities are coordinated and results are pooled by a central point of control and there is a communication flowing back and forth between each regional office with the centre point. This is to make sure that efficiency and consistency of production process are maximized.

To sum it up, Lonely Planet’s communication network can be described as both a centralized and decentralized communication network based on the evidences provided in the case study. Different communication networks are used depending on the situation and the complexity of tasks involved. A centralized communication network is more suitable to handle simple tasks that can be done independently by an individual or from a single office. On the other hand, a decentralized communication network is more suitable for the company when complicated tasks need to be done; when it is too big for only one person to handle (Borgatti 1997). Teamwork is required and a lot of direct interaction is involved. It provides more freedom for employees and managers to communicate, thus the flow of information is efficient. In general, this system can boost employees’ performance and satisfaction, as well as the organization as a whole (Rosen 2008).


In conclusion, it can be seen that Lonely Planet has grown over the years from a company with only a purpose to publish simple guidebooks to finance a couple’s traveling dreams; to a worldwide organization publishing best-selling traveling guidebooks that are highly popular among travelers around the globe. All this is possible with the innovation and quick adaptive skills of owners Tony and Maureen Wheeler. When they realized that their small, insignificant company was headed for a big change, they took the opportunity and steps required to expand their organization.

As described previously, the organization culture of Lonely Planet is said to be a strong one which can be seen by the teamwork and innovation emphasized. The observable culture is also present in the company; to observe the happenings and communicate with employees to hear stories, observe their rites and rituals as well as identifying the symbols; which helps employees to learn the organization’s culture. Moreover, the core culture in the organization which consists of core values also determines how the employees in Lonely Planet work.

In addition, Lonely Planet is also an organization with an adaptive culture. This can be seen by the interest of employees that is consistent with the organization. All this is possible when employees are able to adapt easily to the company’s systems and work methods. Lonely Planet also has features that are attributed with the entrepreneurial culture. With strong and adaptive cultures, the organization is able to consistently solve problems and improve the organization through innovation and learning.

Furthermore, we have also described Lonely Planet’s communication network as both a centralized and decentralized one. The organization uses different networks depending on the tasks involved because each network may not necessarily be suitable for every situation. Therefore, the decentralized communication network can be seen used when contacting the local writers around the globe, or offices communicating with each other for updates and information, as well as visits to offices to check on things. Centralized communication network is more efficient and effective for producing books from only a single location.

All in all, Lonely Planet today is definitely still an active and successful global organization. In the future, more countries and new destinations will be covered on, providing higher quality and highly factual travel information on a global basis. The company already possesses a very solid reputation to date thanks to its internal culture which has been the cornerstone of their success.

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