Wheeler, Tony 1946–

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Wheeler, Tony 1946–

PERSONAL:

Born December 20, 1946, in England; son of Ian (a pilot in the British Air Force) and Hilary Wheeler; married wife, Maureen, October 7, 1970; children: Tashi, Kieran. Education: London Business School, M.B.A.; Warwick University, B.Sc.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Lonely Planet Publications, 90 Maribyrnong St., Victoria 3011, Australia. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer.

WRITINGS:

(With wife, Maureen Wheeler) Across Asia on the Cheap, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1973.

South-East Asia on a Shoestring, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1975.

Australia, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1977.

New Zealand, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1977.

West Asia on a Shoestring, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1978.

Papua: New Guinea, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1978.

Burma, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1979.

Sri Lanka, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1979.

India, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1981.

Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1986.

Islands of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1990.

Dublin, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1993.

San Francisco, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1996.

(With Tom Smallman, Sean Sheehan, Pat Yale, and John Murray) Lonely Planet Ireland (Travel Survival Kit), Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1996.

(Author of text) Chasing Rickshaws, photography by Richard I'Anson, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1998.

(With others) Lonely Planet Unpacked: Travel Disaster Stories by Tony Wheeler and Other Lonely Planet Authors, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 1999.

(Author of text) Time and Tide (photography), Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 2001.

(With Peter Bennetts) Time & Tide: The Islands of Tuvalu, Lonely Planet (Victoria, Australia), 2001.

(With others) Lonely Planet Unpacked Again: Travel Disaster Stories, Lonely Planet Publications (Oakland, CA), 2001.

East Timor, Lonely Planet Publications (Oakland, CA), 2004.

Rice Trails: A Journey through the Ricelands of Asia & Australia, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 2004.

(With Maureen Wheeler) Once While Travelling: The Lonely Planet Story (memoir), Penguin Group Australia (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2006, also published as Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story, Periplus (Hong Kong, China), distributed by Tuttle Publishing (North Clarendon, VT), 2007.

Tony Wheeler's Bad Lands: A Tourist on the Axis of Evil, Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia), 2007.

Contributor to numerous travel books, including Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, 1981, Western Europe, 1993, Tahiti and French Polynesia, 1996; and South Pacific, 2000, all published by Lonely Planet (Victoria, Australia).

SIDELIGHTS:

Tony Wheeler is the founder and principal author of Lonely Planet Publications, a series of guides for adventurous travelers. His first book, Across Asia on the Cheap, was written with his wife Maureen at their kitchen table in a run-down apartment in Sydney, Australia. They had met on a park bench in London, and Tony, who was then a student at a London business school, introduced himself. They talked for hours, married a year later, and decided to travel overland across Asia together before settling down. They bought an old van for one hundred and fifty dollars and drove through Europe, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, then sold it for one hundred and fifty-five dollars and kept on traveling by train and bus, across Pakistan, India, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia. When they reached Australia, they were flat broke and had to find jobs to pay for the return trip.

Other eager travelers asked them about their trip: where they had stayed, how they got there, and how much it cost. They realized there were no guidebooks for the kind of trip they did, so they decided to write one in hopes of making a little money. The first edition of Across Asia on the Cheap was ninety-six pages long and hand-stapled together. The Wheelers printed fifteen hundred copies and walked to all the Sydney bookstores selling them for a dollar and eighty cents each. In ten days, they sold out. They printed more, sold them, and eventually sold over 8,000 copies. As Maureen Wheeler told Michael Finkel in Sports Illustrated, "Forget going back to England—we'll spend another year in Asia and write another Lonely Planet guidebook. Then we'll go home."

From this low-budget beginning, Wheeler has made Lonely Planet into a 50-million-dollar-a-year publishing venture, and has produced over 600 titles in eleven languages. The Wheelers now live in Melbourne and have offices around the world.

Maureen Wheeler told John Krakauer in Smithsonian that she has never quite gotten used to how big their publishing venture has become. "I'm often quite shocked when I walk into the office and see all those people working there. Funny thing is, we've done everything the experts say you're not supposed to do. When business students stop by to study our success, they tell us Lonely Planet contradicts everything they've learned about how to run a company." The company, like the books, is informal, casual, and down-to-earth. Company dress is jeans and casual shirts.

A unique feature of the books is their brisk, often humorous and honest style; in their very first book, Across Asia on the Cheap, the Wheelers cautioned readers wondering whether to buy food from a street seller: "If he looks like he's about to drop dead, eat elsewhere!" A hotel in Kenya is described as "Very clean, but the architect ought to be shot!" A guidebook to Greenland mentions that the best way to get from a particular town to another town is a five-day walk. Other books tell travelers how to do their laundry in Antarctica and how to avoid being attacked by bears in Alaska.

The company was the first to produce a travel guidebook to Antarctica, and the Wheelers pride themselves on producing guides to almost every imaginable destination. "Look at Yemen," Wheeler told Finkel. "How many [Western travelers] go to Yemen? Maybe 130 a year. Well, we have a book for them. Mongolia? People aren't beating down the doors to go there. But what's more fun to do—a book on Florida or a book on Mongolia? Well, for my money, it'd be Mongolia."

The strain of traveling and writing for Lonely Planet makes being one of the writers no easy job; some have disappeared after spending months traveling on a book assignment, sometimes taking the Wheelers' money with them.

Travelers using the guides may come under pressure too. Yet, the Wheelers don't think they have a responsibility to tell people where to go or not to go. More important to them is the imperative of producing a guide to every country, especially the remote, untraveled ones.

Some controversy has attended the widespread use of Lonely Planet guides; some contend that the guides encourage inexperienced travelers to go to places they would be better off not visiting, or that the increased tourism to Third World countries run by dictatorial regimes has provided economic aid to these regimes. The Wheelers, in contrast, believe that the exposure to foreign tourists often brings poor conditions in other countries to the attention of the world and forces these governments to improve. There is some evidence for this: when the guidebooks exposed human rights abuses in several countries, the books were banned there.

According to Wheeler, the name of his company was the result of a mistake. "It came from a Joe Cocker song," Wheeler told Michael Finkel in Sports Illustrated, "except I got it wrong. The lyric was, ‘Traveling across the sky, this lovely planet caught my eye.’ But I thought it was ‘lonely planet.’ Good thing, too. I never would've called the company Lovely Planet."

Wheeler gave Finkel a final bit of advice, noting that some people only go to places mentioned in the guides and don't strike out on their own, and cautioning that this is a mistake. "Travel is all about discovery," he said. "If you follow only us, you'll miss the serendipity of finding things on your own."

Wheeler and Lonely Planet have continued to produce travel guides and more, including essay collections about travel, memoirs, and other books. For example, in Chasing Rickshaws the author provides the text for photographs by Richard I'Anson of the celebrated "Asian taxicab." Brad Hooper, writing in Booklist, noted that "it is a world they intimately, even beautifully, share with their readers." Another book, Lonely Planet Unpacked: Travel Disaster Stories by Tony Wheeler and Other Lonely Planet Authors, was published in 1999. "Readers … will find a wide variety of insider information and confessions of naiveté and helplessness," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor of the book.

Wheeler is coauthor with his wife, Maureen Wheeler, of the memoir, Once While Travelling: The Lonely Planet Story, published in the United States as Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story. In their book, the two founders of Lonely Planet mix autobiography, business history, and travel writing to trace their personal story and the evolution of their travel guide writing business into the largest independent travel publishing company in the world. The memoir includes numerous anecdotes, from being hassled by customs and cheated by accountants to being gored by a cow and banned in Malawi. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the authors "deliver a lively autobiography that is … interesting, informative and amusing."

Wheeler turns his attention to a more political aspect of travel and the world with his book titled Tony Wheeler's Bad Lands: A Tourist on the Axis of Evil. The author recounts his travels through places that are typically perceived as having some of the most repressive and dangerous regimes in the world, including Albania, Burma, Cuba, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea. The author discusses each country's attitude toward human rights and terrorism, as well as their foreign policies. In the process, Wheeler ponders what makes a country truly evil. "The result is a hilarious and fascinating glimpse into countries that many of us will never visit in our lifetime, and one that provides a perfect adjunct to the way in which they are typically portrayed," wrote David Johnson in Business Traveller Asia Pacific.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Wheeler, Tony, and Maureen Wheeler, Across Asia on the Cheap, Lonely Planet (Victoria, Australia), 1973.

Wheeler, Tony, and Maureen Wheeler, Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story, Periplus (Hong Kong, China), distributed by Tuttle Publishing (North Clarendon, VT), 2007.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, October 15, 1998, Brad Hooper, review of Chasing Rickshaws, p. 390; September 15, 1999, Brad Hooper, review of Chasing Rickshaws, p. 224; November 1, 1999, Brad Hooper, review of Lonely Planet Unpacked: Travel Disaster Stories by Tony Wheeler and Other Lonely Planet Authors, p. 504; September 15, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of Lonely Planet Unpacked, p. 209; April 1, 2007, George Cohen, review of Tony Wheeler's Bad Lands: A Tourist on the Axis of Evil, p. 18.

Business Traveller Asia Pacific, September, 2007, David Johnson, review of Tony Wheeler's Bad Lands, p. 18.

California Bookwatch, December, 2007, review of Tony Wheeler's Bad Lands; December, 2007, review of Unlikely Destinations.

Christian Science Monitor, February 7, 1992, Ron Scherer, "Candid Aussie Guidebooks to Pack," p. 12.

Forbes, May 22, 1995, Michael Schuman, "The Not-So-Lonely Planet," profile of author and company, p. 104.

Geographical, February, 2002, Tony Karacsonyi, review of Time & Tide: The Islands of Tuvalu, p. 76; May, 2007, Mick Herron, review of Tony Wheeler's Bad Lands, p. 89.

International Travel News, November, 1994, Elaine Stachowicz, review of Lonely Planet Ireland (Travel Survival Kit), p. 96; November, 1994, Jennifer J. Rose, review of Sri Lanka: A Travel Survival Kit, p. 97.

Maclean's, December 7, 1998, review of Chasing Rickshaws, p. 64.

Publishers Weekly, October 26, 1984, Lisa See, "Travel Stories—Far Afield and at Home," p. 42; October 5, 1998, review of Chasing Rickshaws, p. 76; October 25, 1999, review of Lonely Planet Unpacked, p. 66; January 29, 2007, Michelle Wildgen, "A Really Big Wheel(er)," p. 29; February 12, 2007, review of Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story, p. 72.

Smithsonian, October, 1994, John Krakauer, "All They Really Wanted Was to Travel a Little," profile of author, p. 132.

Sports Illustrated, November 3, 1997, Michael Finkel., "It's a Small World After All," profile of author, p. 5.

Time International, December 21, 1998, "Best of the Shelf," review of Chasing Rickshaws, p. 6.

U.S. News and World Report, October 1, 1990, James Popkin, "Taking the Kids to Calcutta," interview with author, p. 90.

Wall Street Journal, December 4, 1998, Raymond Sokolov, review of Chasing Rickshaws, p. W4.

ONLINE

Lonely Planet Web site, http://www.lonelyplanet.com/ (May 10, 2008), profile of author.

Spike, http://www.spikemagazine.com/ (July 1, 2003), review of Lonely Planet Unpacked.