Local News
11:26 am
Tue March 19, 2013

'Reclusive' Kentucky Billionaire Buys Lonely Planet Travel Guide Company

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A billionaire Kentucky native is buying the travel guide publisher Lonely Planet for $77.3 million.

Lonely Planet's current owner—British broadcaster BBC Worldwide—announced on Tuesday the sale to NC2 Media, which is run by Daniel Houghton, a Western Kentucky University alum. He'll become Lonely Planet's chief operating officer, pending approval of the sale by the BBC Trust.

NC2 Media is controlled by Brad M. Kelley, a native of Franklin, Ky., The New York Times reports. The Times also calls him "reclusive."

In a 2005 Times piece, Kelley is described as a low-key businessman who made his fortune in generic cigarettes and later became a major landowner in the South.

Mr. Kelley is not what we've come to expect of Forbes 400 billionaires. For one thing, he's never been on a yacht. He drives a white Ford pickup and is the only member of the Forbes 400 from Kentucky - though he recently moved to Tennessee to be near his children's school. Mr. Kelley and his wife, Susan, have been married for nearly 20 years. He did not go to college. "I guess I just don't find that as unusual or remarkable as apparently a lot of other people do," he told me. "I mean, I've had a lot of M.B.A.'s that've worked for me over time, off and on, that, excuse my French, were useless as teats on a boar hog."

Kelley also once owned a stake in Churchill Downs and last year leased the legendary Calumet Farm in Lexington, said Forbes and the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Lonely Planet has printed more than 120 million in 11 languages, a BBC Wolrdwide news release said. It proclaims itself the world's "most successful" travel guide publisher.

Incidentally, Lonely Planet in December proclaimed Louisville the U.S.'s top travel destination for 2013.

NC2 Media is based in Nashville.

In a statement, Houghton said: “With this acquisition comes a global footprint, not only in the travel guide business, but also in magazine publishing and the digital space. ... The challenge and promise before us is to marry the world’s greatest travel information and guidebook company with the limitless potential of 21st century digital technology."

(Image via Shutterstock.)