BBC exploring "strategic options" for Lonely Planet series

LONDON (REUTERS) - The BBC's commercial arm said on Tuesday it was examining strategic options for the Lonely Planet travel guides, following a report of a potential sale to an American billionaire.

US-based travel site said in an unsourced post that BBC Worldwide was in negotiations with Kentucky billionaire Brad Kelley over a sale of the book series, and that a deal could be announced next week.

"We have been exploring strategic options for Lonely Planet for some time now but no deal has been done and we are not going to comment on speculation about its future," a spokesman for BBC Worldwide told Reuters on Tuesday.

Toted by travellers across the globe, the Lonely Planet series has printed over 100 million books in nine languages, mapping out tourist trails from Austria to Antarctica.

The BBC initially bought a majority stake in Lonely Planet for 88.1 million pounds (S$165 million) in 2007, before becoming the sole shareholder of the series for a further 42.1 million pounds in 2011.

The BBC's acquisition drew criticism for appearing to stray from the corporation's public services remit of the broadcaster, which is publicly funded through a licence tax.

Reclusive billionaire Kelley, who made his fortune selling discount cigarettes in the 1990s, is one of the biggest landowners in the US and breeds rare and exotic animals as a hobby, the Wall Street Journal reported last October.