Lonely Planet turns 30
- 1 October 2003
30 Years of Lonely Planet
In the Beginning…
When Tony and Maureen first met on a park bench in Regent’s Park, London, they talked about travel.
A year later they married, bought a minivan for £65 and headed off across Europe and Asia towards
Australia, arriving in Sydney with only 27c. Friends in Sydney asked so many questions about their overland
trip, they sat at their kitchen table, wrote up and stapled together a travel guide called Across Asia on
the Cheap. This DIY publishing project was the beginning of Lonely Planet.
Across Asia on the Cheap was published in October 1973 and sold 8000 copies in three months in
Australia and New Zealand. It retailed for A$1.80.
The name Lonely Planet came from Tony singing Joe Cocker’s Space Captain and getting the lyrics
wrong (it was ‘lovely planet’). Just as well, as the alternative was ‘Visa Guidebooks’.
What Happened in Between
In 1986 rumours about Tony Wheeler’s death started and continued for two years. He died of malaria, on
a sinking ship, in a bus accident in South America, was shot by the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, and eaten
by a lion. (Tony first heard this in Gujarat, India and then three weeks later in Rajasthan).
• India 2 was published in Aug. ‘84. The first pirated version of India 2 appeared in Feb. ‘87.
• The first European title, Eastern Europe, was published in 1989. The first city guide was Singapore in 1991.
• In 1987 cartography was digitised. China 3 (June 88) was the last entirely hand-mapped book. It took a year to draw the 186 maps. Stan Armington was the first author to use GPS readings to allow us to create maps for Bhutan 1 (Nov 98).
Today Lonely Planet:
• has printed over 54,488,688 books over the past 30 years.
• sells over 5.5 million books in English each year in 118 countries.
• publishes over 600 titles across 17 different languages, including Japanese, Korean, Italian, French and Hungarian.
• has sold over a million copies each of Australia, India, Thailand and New Zealand. Australia is the top selling guide globally.
• Its first employee, Andy Neilsen, still works in the Melbourne office and her 191 snow domes are housed in custom made cabinets (more are most welcome)
• www.lonelyplanet.com launched in 1994 receives over 2 million unique visitors per month, and over 650,000 views per day. It won the Webby award for best travel website in 2002 and 2003.
• Lonely Planet’s business services unit has developed WAP sites, palm pilot and mobile phone guides www.lonelyplanet.biz
• Lonely Planet Television’s (LPTV) first series, Six Degrees, will be broadcast from late 2003 www.lonelyplanet.tv
• Lonely Planet Images, a digital library of 250,000 images, was launched in February 2002 and today has over 25,000 registered users. www.lonelyplanetimages.com
About the Business
• Lonely Planet is majority owned and run by British founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler, out of their adopted home in Melbourne.
• The London office opened in 1991, Paris in 1993, and Oakland (San Francisco) in 1984. Lonely Planet has around 400 staff worldwide and a core of 100 freelance authors.
• Annual turnover is currently $A85m (£30m).
• The first package holidays started in 1950 when entrepreneurs used old warplanes to take Brits to European beaches. Travel changed from being exclusively a plaything of the rich to a service for the masses. (Source: Flight to the Sun, 2000).
• The first jumbo jet flight was on Feb 9, 1969.
• Travel and Tourism industry accounts for 195 million of the world’s jobs, or 7.6% of total employment, or 10.2% of total GDP (World Travel and Tourism Council, March 2003)
• The most popular international tourist destination is France, with over 75 million visitors a year. Americans, Germans and Brits spend the most money on tourism, followed by the Japanese and the French. (World Tourism Organization Tourism Highlights)
• Number of international tourist arrivals in 2002 was over 715 million, a 3.1% increase on 2001. This is expected to rise to 1.56 billion in 2020. (WTO Tourism Highlights 2002)
• Number of UK holidays in 2002; 39 million, 21 million of which were package holidays. Top destination for British holidaymakers is Spain. France is the top destination for British day-trippers and is the UK’s favourite ski destination. The USA is the UK’s number one long haul destination. (ABTA Holiday Trends 2002)
• Over 7.5 million travel guides and travel literature titles were sold in the UK in 2002. The top five destinations by guidebook sales were: Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and France (Nielsen BookScan). As market leader, Lonely Planet sold 25% more guides than their nearest rival publisher, and held a 12.84% share of the market.