Tony Wheeler, founder of “Lonely Planet” (LP) publications, introduced his new travel story book in Beijing this week.
“The Lonely Planet Story” is a revised version of the 2nd edition which was published in 2016. Tony has added his latest travel experiences.
Since 1970s, Wheeler and wife Maureen have traveled to 155 countries. They published their first travel guidebook,”Across Asia on the Cheap” in 1973. The series was named after Tony misheard some lyrics — “lovely planet” — in the Joe Cocker song “Space Cowboy”.
Traveling for over 40 years, Wheeler started his new trip driving a British vintage car from Thailand one month ago.
With the Silk Road Driving Tour, he has gone to Cambodia and Laos with a team of eight. In China, they visited Anhui, Chongqing, Guizhou, Hubei, Jiangsu, Shanghai and Yunnan.
In the following weeks, they are scheduled to pass through Gansu, Hebei, Shaanxi, Shanxi and Xinjiang before heading across Central Asia and to arrive in England in two months.
Wheeler has been to China 19 times. When he first time came to Beijing about 25 years ago, it was a city of bicycles. And every time he came back, there were fewer and fewer bicycles, he said. And suddenly, the bicycles are back!
“When I first time came to China, everything was very difficult,” Wheeler recalled. “It was not easy to travel around. Now traveling in China is so easy.”
Every time he comes to China, Wheeler is filled with an enthusiasm to travel. “You didn’t meet many Chinese travelers overseas 40 or 50 years ago,” he said. “Now you meet Chinese travelers everywhere.”
“I read last week that the most visitors to Antarctica are still Americans, but number two are from China,” Wheeler said.
His life and work are closely related with travel. “If you are a writer of the LP, you have to like restaurants, you have to like night clubs, you have to like the markets in the morning, you have to try everything,” Wheeler said. They can’t just have one small interest.
The reason why LP started is that Wheeler and his wife traveled from London to Afghanistan and then to Australia. There was no information and no books.
They found out everything by asking people along the way.
Wang Xiao, a college student and a LP fan, read some guidebooks five years ago and she traveled to Europe, America and Bali, LP in hand.
“Unlike other guidebooks, LP encourages tourists to design and explore their own journey,” Wang said. “This won my favor.”
Wang subscribes to the LP’s Chinese WeChat account to view fresh travel recommendations.
In the very beginning, LP readers just sent postcards and wrote letters pointing out mistakes. “That was how social media worked 40 years ago.
“Today, all of our readers are always connected to the Internet, Wifi, email, and social media,” Wheeler said. LP’s combined social media community reached 10 million in 2016, and mobile app “Guides” hit one million downloads and covers 100 cities and counting.
LP has around 300 contributing writers, Wheeler said in a written interview with Xinhua.
Altogether over the years there must have been more than 1,000 writers.
In 2007, the couple sold most of the stock right in LP to the BBC.
They have retired from LP and established the foundation of Planet Wheeler to assist the projects in health, education, and development in southeast Asia and Africa.
In Feb. this year, Tony and Maureen received the 13th UNWTO Lifetime Achievement Award by the World Tourism Organization.