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Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler on a rare return to his home town
TONY Wheeler co-founded the Lonely Planet travel guides but a return visit to Bournemouth will always have a special place in his heart.
He gave a rare lecture at Bournemouth University on Monday and said coming back to Dorset always felt a bit like coming home.
He left clutching a leaflet for the Russell-Cotes museum, which “intrigued” him on a previous visit, but which he didn’t have time to see before a flight home to Melbourne.
His audience from the tourism and media schools were enthralled by the potted history of his adventures.
The students asked two questions he must never escape – he was not sure of a favourite place, but has visited Nepal the most, and at the moment Congo and Yemen are top of his “to do” list.
Mr Wheeler and his wife Maureen were young graduates when they spent a year driving, walking and hitchhiking through Asia to Australia in 1970.
They sold their £65 car for a £5 profit in Kabul and Mr Wheeler joked: “If you could track it down, it’s probably Osama Bin Laden’s getaway vehicle.”
The couple wrote a book about their experiences and it became the first in the Lonely Plant series.
Today the company has 500 employees, and has diversified through Chinese editions, magazines and more.
The audience included numerous Asian students and Mr Wheeler said today’s travellers would increasingly be coming from the east to the west.
His company has been at the cutting edge of technology.
The company made early home computers, Mr Wheeler wrote a travel blog in 1994, and today the Lonely Planet releases iPhone apps.
But he believes there is a still a need for specialist writers and not just the anonymous consumer reviews of the internet.
“We have always encouraged people to write to us with their experiences,” he said.
“However if someone writes ‘This hotel is rubbish’, who is to say it’s not been written by the hotel next door?
“There’s still an opening for the experienced voice.”
He was passionate about travel building better connections between nations and had some of his most memorable times in Iran and North Korea.
“When you meet people and build relationships,” he said, “you become more than just statistics.”