Unit 1 - Paper One- "Reading"


1 Tony and Maureen Wheeler have spent more than 30 years travelling and recording their experiences in one of the world’s most popular guidebook series. Lonely Planet books were the first of a new type of travel guide. The appeal for young travelers was clear: expensive hotels were not mentioned, which attracted those managing on a limited budget. The books also emphasized the importance of spending time in a country and taking the time to get to know other cultures and meeting local people. These messages influenced travelers of all ages. There are now over 600 Lonely Planet guides covering nearly every corner of the world.

2 So how did it all start? Tony and Maureen decided to drive from London to Asia in 1972, and bought a second-hand van which, with all the repairs it required during the trip, reflects their approach to life: a tendency to make decisions spontaneously, and a willingness to cheerfully adapt to the highs and lows of travel. The couple started writing down tips on where to stay and how to survive, often in places far away from big cities. Eventually, they realized people might pay for such information, and so they produced their first book.  

3 In the early days the main selling point was that they produced guidebooks to places nobody else investigated, but times have changed. ‘We started doing guidebooks on Asian countries which in those days didn’t get much attention. Today when our writers cover almost everywhere, our size and experience are probably our main advantages,’ Tony explains. Unlike many other guides, they prefer not to use advertising and are proud of that fact, so they have to sell enough books to remain profitable.  

4 Today the Wheelers still spend more than six months of the year travelling, but it’s not possible for them to write every guidebook. A large team of writers is essential for the expanding company. At last count it employed some 350 experienced writers from more than 40 countries. ‘The bigger the destination, the more researchers we need. The individual opinions of our researchers are very important to us and they should be independent-minded,’ says Tony. The company allows researchers to use information given by local tourist offices but whenever a travel guide is updated, the Wheelers have to go back to the destination and double-check everything. They are convinced that there is no alternative to this.  

5 Lonely Planet also relies on reader feedback. According to Tony, ‘Complaints from readers are often beyond our control; prices go up, places close, standards drop (or sometimes improve) but of course it’s always valuable to know what's happening. Keeping up to date is the key. If, however, one of our researchers really has been inaccurate then we’re going to have to improve that book, possibly by using a new writer in the future. Complaints from hotels or restaurants may be because they don't like what we have written about them, although we try not to pull a place to pieces if we don't have to. We would rather make warm recommendations.’

6 It is not surprising that the Wheelers have strong views on how to choose suitable holidays. ‘First of all ask yourself what your interests are. If you are interested in culture this will affect where you go. Then you might consider how much time you have and what the options are for getting there and travelling around. I think you need to honestly consider what level of stress you can stand – do you really want excitement or moments of discomfort? Some people just want to relax! And keep in mind that it’s not always necessary to take long trips; you should only travel for as long as you’re happy to be travelling.’  

7 It’s a remarkable success story. But it was never easy. The Wheelers had other jobs while setting up their company and had to take months off to do research. Today their books have inspired many to follow in their footsteps and see the world. Although their very first book on Asia is no longer in print, they would still love to repeat that life-changing trip again someday. Let’s hope they find the time.