Yesterday, Skift's Rafat Ali reported that BBC Worldwide is in negotiations to sell off a majority of its stake in Lonely Planet, the longtime must-pack for wide-eyed international backpackers since its founding in 1973. The buyer, according to Ali, is Brad Kelley, a former tobacco company owner and semi-reclusive billionaire described as being the third biggest private landowner in the United States. BBC Worldwide, which acquired Lonely Planet from its founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler in 2007, would still have some role in the day-to-day operations of the book and web company. Rumors of a possible sale were reported in the U.K. press back in December 2012, when names of possible buyers included Barry Diller, head of IAC/InterActiveCorp.
So, what might this mean for fans of the books? As Jason Clampet notes in another Skift story from the same day, sales of guidebooks are down as more travelers are turning to the web and mobile devices for user-generated content. According to Clampet, sales of the top guides dropped by 47% since 2007.
Kelley, an investor in the travel-themed video site OutWildTV, seems to share some of Lonely Planet's core environmental values: He's bought hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Texas, Florida, New Mexico, Wyoming, Tennessee, and Kentucky according to The Wall Street Journal's Nancy Keates, leaving many of the parcels unchanged. Little is known about the 55-year-old Kelley (The WSJ could only find one undated image of him that made him look like Colonel Sanders), but he's something of a conservationist, funding the breeding of hippos, rhinos, and other exotic animals. Whether he'll change the guides' tone and approach to world travel is yet to be seen since the deal is not yet final.