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Let’s Go Goes For Profits

February 6, 1992

BOSTON (AP) _ Let’s Go, the travel guidebook series that’s become almost as essential as a backpack for budget travelers, is now officially going for profits.

For more than 30 years, Harvard Student Agencies Inc. has produced the guidebooks filled with tips - plus plenty of lively descriptions - about places to eat, sleep and visit, both off and on the beaten path.

But the books became so popular that the student organization decided the Let’s Go series no longer fell within the group’s non-profit charter.

As a result, a for-profit subsidiary has been created, called Let’s Go Inc., said Michele Ponti, chief executive officer of Harvard Student Agencies.

Ponti said the new status would have little effect on the Let’s Go operation. She explained that according to the student group’s charter, ″we are here to provide income for students to help defray their tuition, to teach them management and professional skills, and to serve the greater Harvard community.″

″We feel that since the Let’s Go books have become so popular, they now reach well beyond the scope of our charter,″ she said.

The Harvard Crimson, citing unnamed sources, reported Wednesday that the success of the student group’s publishing division was threatening the organization’s non-profit status.

But Ponti characterized the move simply as a business decision to live within the spirit of the charter.

The Let’s Go books began in 1960, born from a little booklet students compiled about their experiences when they first went to Europe.

That led to the publishing of Let’s Go Europe, which has been ranked as the most popular budget travel guide in the world.

Jared Kieling, senior editor for St. Martin’s Press, which publishes the books, said the writing style has much to do with their success. The books are written by student researchers ″who actually go to places, and go with spirit and adventure,″ he said.

Let’s Go now has 15 versions, including another popular book, Let’s Go U.S.A. Overall, more than 600,000 copies of the 1992 editions of Let’s Go were shipped worldwide, Kieling said.

Two more versions are planned for 1993 - Thailand and Paris.

Each year, dozens of students do the research and writing, fanning out over the globe during the summer and then returning home to rush out the new editions for the fall.

″Throughout the year, we probably receive 2,000 letters from people telling us ‘Don’t stay here,’ or ’This place was wonderful,‴ Ponti said.

Kieling said the 1992 editions have expanded coverage of Eastern Europe, though they came out before the Soviet Union dissolved. ″For 1993, it will reflect the new realities,″ he said.

As for a formula, Ponti said students look for two basic attributes: ″cheap and good.″

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