WHO Born in England, Tony Wheeler co-founded Lonely Planet, the global leader in travel guide books, with his wife Maureen Wheeler. He has just launched an edition geared specifically to the needs of Indians, called Lonely Planet for the Indian Traveller.
What was your primary intent on founding Lonely Planet in 1973?
It was, to some extent, to put a focus on travel, to find a purpose behind my own wanderings. I’ve always loved researching these books, gathering all that information and putting it out in an interesting way. I think, that’s what inspires a lot of our writers and researchers.
When did you first visit India?
I didn’t visit India until I was in my early 20s, when I travelled across Asia on the old ‘Asia overland route’, also known as the ‘hippie trail’. I entered India via the route from Lahore to Amritsar and exited from Calcutta. It was a trip of amazing contrasts along the way. The Indian experience was very different from that of countries further to the west (Iran and Afghanistan) and further east (starting with Thailand).
Why Lonely Planet for Indian travellers? Has the global Indian traveller arrived?
It’s a combination of the size of the market — there’s a huge growth in Indians travelling abroad — and the attitude of the travelling population. Part of the Lonely Planet story has been about catering to people who want to do their own thing and make their own discoveries. There are plenty of Indian travellers who fit into that category. I keep bumping into this one Indian friend who I went to university with in London many years ago. I met up with him and his wife in New York earlier this year, I travelled with them in Croatia last year, I’ll see them again in Delhi. Research shows that Indian travellers often have different travel habits and requirements from what a guide prescribes. This new edition is tailored specially to their needs.
How should Indians travel responsibly?
We should ensure our travel has the maximum ‘good’ and the minimum ‘bad’ impact on the environment. I’ve never been enthusiastic about high-speed travel; here today, somewhere else tomorrow. The slower we travel, the more we appreciate what we’re seeing.
Sudha G Tilak