Lonely Planet blames soaring dollar for loss of 60 jobs

TRAVEL publisher Lonely Planet has blamed the soaring Aussie dollar for its decision to axe 60 to 70 staff and move its online division from its Melbourne headquarters to London.

Chief executive Matt Goldberg told employees yesterday morning that the redundancies - about 15 per cent of staff - were a necessary step for the company to ''return to profitability''.

''Lonely Planet is facing a series of financial challenges from external forces beyond our control - a sluggish global economy, the troubled retail sector, a declining print market and, significantly, the effects of the strong Australian dollar,'' Mr Goldberg said.

The Aussie's strength has bled the company of $13 million in revenue this financial year, because 70 per cent of its costs are incurred in Australia, while 80 per cent of its revenue is raised overseas.

Lonely Planet is expected to post a loss this year. The company also announced plans yesterday to slash its costs by 18 per cent.

Lonely Planet was founded by Australian couple Tony and Maureen Wheeler in the 1970s, and grew into the world's largest guide book publisher. It is now a wholly owned subsidiary of UK-based BBC Worldwide.

Tony Wheeler told The Age that although it was sad to see people lose their jobs, the company had to act to stave off further losses.

''It's pretty horrible, but what can you do when the US dollar's falling through the floor and the Australian dollar's going through the ceiling?'' Mr Wheeler said.

Employees in the online division greeted the news with dismay

''The relocation is a surprise, but it was fairly clear there were going to be some fairly savage cuts,'' one employee who was yesterday made redundant told The Age. ''I've had the feeling that the BBC has been wanting to move the online publishing side of things to London anyway.''

Mr Goldberg told staff that the company was committed to remaining in its Melbourne headquarters, which has about 350 staff.