An Interview with Tony Wheeler, among Lonely Planet’s Founders

In 2019, among the keynote speakers at TravelCon was Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet. I’ve been luckily enough to speak to Tony several times through the years, and I was honored when he decided to speak at our conference. With TravelCon19 in the books, I thought it could be a great time to re-share this interview with Tony from 2011 so we’re able to step back in its history and see precisely what has changed in the market since that time.

Starting a travel blog will be a lot of work. But it addittionally has its perks. Among those perks?

Meeting awesome people.

Owning a travel blog has allowed me to meet up amazing people from all over the globe.

But it’s also given me an opportunity to meet my travel heroes.

I’ve had drinks with Pauline Frommer, met Rick Steves, became friends with Johnny Jet and Matt Gross (the former Frugal Traveler), hung out with Rolf Potts, and discussed flights with George Hobica, merely to name a few. I even surely got to meet Cheryl Strayed earlier this season.

Having been blogging and traveling for over ten years now, the set of amazing people I’ve met is continuing to grow long — and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have already been given. Among those opportunities occurred back 2011.

As my blog begun to grow, I was getting ultimately more and more press attention. 1 day, I received a contact from Lonely Planet. They wished to put me touching their founder, Tony Wheeler.

I was stunned.

This is an enormous opportunity.

WHEN I calmed down, I sent Tony a contact.

We exchanged a few emails backwards and forwards and he decided to do an interview for your blog (I confess, I gushed a bit about his influence on my travels. I couldn’t make it!)

Here’s that original interview, from 2011. A whole lot has changed since that time — yet so much continues to be the same!

Nomadic Matt: Your Guide to Southeast Asia changed guidebooks and travel. It created a mass-market and accessibility that didn’t exist before. How does having such a big effect on travel cause you to feel? Tony Wheeler : Great. Looking back, we have there been in the beginning of something big happening. Travel was becoming less expensive and accessible, so there is a demand for destination information. That’s how Lonely Planet started, with people asking us for our tips for destinations because we’d been there and done it. This resulted in the creation of our first guidebook, Across Asia on the Cheap.

There’s actually a book going to be published by a man who tries to visit around the spot today using among our original books, Southeast Asia on a Shoestring (now 36 years old). Amazingly, he finds plenty of places either still functioning or run by the kids and even grandchildren of the people we encountered whenever we researched the guide in 1974. Travel is continually changing and developing, however the dependence on trusted, accurate information regarding destinations remains. More folks travel further and longer and in various ways. Our guides continue steadily to provide the proven recommendations our first guide, Across Asia on the Cheap, was founded on.

Lonely Planet is definitely the bible for young backpackers and long-term travelers. It’s the book they use a lot more than any other guide out there. Is that the marketplace you had always wished for, considering that was the design of travel you started with? We began doing books for folks exactly like us, young and penniless. Obviously, we’ve changed through the years therefore have the books! But although we cover the upscale travel as much as backpacking nowadays, I still have a genuine soft spot for the backpackers — they’re travel pioneers, they’re often pioneering new routes and new means of travel, and let’s face it, there’s no travel experience just like the first-time travel experience.

I reckon gap-year travelers find out more for the reason that year than they did within their last five years of school. Or another years of university! I also just like the tough-travel, off-the-beaten-track information, which explains why I’ve enjoyed myself using our guide to Africa in the Democratic Republic of Congo these past three weeks.

In the book The Beach, you will find a line: “Once it’s in the Lonely Planet, it’s ruined.” That comment reflects a sense that Lonely Planet (and guidebooks generally) sterilize places and turn them into tourist traps. How does one respond to such criticism? The main element here’s that Lonely Planet guidebooks are simply that — helpful information. We encourage travelers to use our guides as a starting place, by giving them with the various tools to create their own adventures.

Tourists will visit destinations regardless; we are simply providing them with the various tools to visit independently and put their tourist pounds back to the neighborhood economy.

It is definitely paramount to us that Lonely Planet encourages responsible, independent, and ethical tourism. Our guides advise travelers about the neighborhood history, politics, culture, wildlife, and economy in order to reach the heart of the area and understand the destination they are visiting.

I’ve dedicated my life to visit and am a solid believer in its benefits, both for the traveler and the neighborhood community they are visiting.

Travel broadens your brain by sharing cultures, language, and traditions. It really is impossible to argue that tourism doesn’t influence destinations, but there are several factors adding to the growth of tourism, not least flight routes and the declining cost of travel.

Any kind of aspects of travel which have changed during the last twenty years that you DON’T like? Why? Many people will say the higher simple travel, communication, and information took the romance out of travel, but I reckon things such as Internet cafés are simply a fresh version of poste restante. There’ll be just as much tales of Internet café meetings and romances as “sitting on the steps of the postoffice reading long-lost letters.”

The saddest change is a post-9/11 security one. Of course, I hate all of the farting around with metal detectors and X-ray machines (and I possibly could design an easier way to do it than 90% of airports I go through), however the biggest one is that you can’t rise on the flight deck anymore. When you never could on US airlines, elsewhere on the globe in the event that you asked nicely you could generally get invited up to the flight deck to get a go over the pilot’s shoulder.

The main one occasion I flew Concorde I went up the sharp end, and twice I even surely got to sit in on a landing of a 747.

On the other hand of this question, what do you see as the more strengths of how travel has changed during the last twenty years? Romance or not, I’d be lying easily said I didn’t just like the simple doing things nowadays, whether it’s booking a hotel, obtaining a seat on a plane in Congo or a train in Switzerland, and you could download visa applications instantly. (Iran was amazingly wired and helpful due to that the last time I went there.)

And that almost anywhere you may get a free of charge or near-as-damn-it free local SIM card for your phone can be amazing — so I’ve had my very own contact number everywhere from Afghanistan to Zambia — as is ATM machines spitting out currency in the weirdest & most unlikely places.

Where do you see guidebooks moving in the digital age? It’s often said there’s as much print as ever; it’s not necessarily in writing anymore. I believe we’re going to continue researching things: to accomplish a good job you need to go there, you cannot research a location from behind a desk or before a computer. But whether that “guidebook” is a book or an iPhone app, who knows?

What do you consider of travel blogs? Great. The very best travel blogs publish such an abundance and diversity of travel articles. This is a fantastic community and it’s exciting to view it grow.

Do you think there exists a professional quality to visit blogs that’s on par with guidebooks? A number of them. But then there are several good guidebooks plus some crap ones aswell.

Which blogs do you prefer? What are a few examples of “good ones”? I don’t follow any blogs, but if I’m looking for something linked to some trip or place or idea I’m considering i quickly often end through to somebody’s blog. The Congo trip I’ve just done was very mundane, but God, there are several great Congo stories out there.

Just like the one by a Belgian couple who slogged their way right in the united states, all but destroying their Land Cruiser on the way and putting it through the type of hell Toyota could not have dreamed up. And I’ve been down a lot of “roads” on Land Cruisers where, by the end, I thought “Just what a vehicle! Amazing!”

Why did you sell your stake in Lonely Planet? We didn’t want to perform it forever, and it had been time for a change.

Given that you have sold Lonely Planet, how are you keeping busy? Traveling! I’m focusing on a fresh travel book, and Lonely Planet keeps asking me to accomplish some things.

Which means you are still associated with LP? Is that as an advisory role, or have you got a particular title? A title? A job? Something I receives a commission for? No. But I write a monthly column for the LP magazine, I appear to write a whole lot of intros/forewords/columns/etc. for assorted LP books, and I’m still often asked to front for something, appear for something, etc. with LP. And for the others of my entire life I’ll be “among the individuals who started LP.”

And I’ll never manage to go anywhere without sending back corrections/additions/suggestions for the relevant book. Incidentally, I never really had an LP business card with a title or role onto it.

When you have one little bit of advice for travelers, what would it not be? Go. And go somewhere interesting.

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An Interview with Tony Wheeler, among Lonely Planet’s Founders