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BBC hopes to go far with Lonely Planet acquisition

British Broadcasting Corp. has bought travel guidebook company Lonely Planet, gaining a catalogue of 500 travel guides from Antarctica to Zimbabwe, to boost holiday coverage on television and the Web and expand outside the U.K.

BBC Worldwide Ltd., the commercial arm of the BBC, acquired 75 per cent of the publisher from Tony and Maureen Wheeler, who founded the company in 1972, and John Singleton, a shareholder since 1999, the London-based broadcaster said in an e-mailed statement today. It didn't disclose financial details, but Reuters News Agency reported the deal values the travel publisher at about £100-million ($203-million).

Lonely Planet will give the BBC a globally recognized travel brand and a television series that runs in more than 100 countries. The Australian publisher developed a cult following among backpackers and other young travellers with its first book, Across Asia on the Cheap, in 1973, and has since broadened its repertoire to appeal to a more affluent clientele. Headquartered in Melbourne, it publishes about 500 travel guides, including language, cycling and walking titles, employs 500 staff and as many as 300 on-the-road authors.

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"Closing this prestigious deal is a great feather in the cap for BBC Worldwide, its management and the BBC over all," said Étienne de Villiers, non-executive chairman of BBC Worldwide.

BBC Worldwide, which sells programs, operates TV channels and sells books, DVDs, and magazines, will use Lonely Planet to add new travel information to its television programs and websites. The guidebook company produces and develops programs for international broadcasters.

Lonely Planet will also help the BBC, the world's oldest public service broadcaster, reach new markets, BBC Worldwide said.

In 2006, Lonely Planet accepted advertisements on its website for the first time, a step away from its backpackers' roots. The website includes updated travel information and logs by some of the guidebook authors, as well as links to travel insurance firms and language schools.

Maureen and Tony Wheeler will retain a 25-per-cent stake in the company. The couple, who met on a bench in London's Regent's Park, started the company after a honeymoon trip across Asia with "a beat-up old car, a few dollars in the pocket and a sense of adventure," the Lonely Planet's website says.

Selling to the BBC will allow Lonely Planet to "secure the long-term future of our company within a globally recognized media group," they said. Lonely Planet's chief executive officer Judy Slatyer and her management team will stay with the publisher.

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