Tourists to Myanmar doing more good than bad, Lonely Planet founder says


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (eTN) – Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler has defended his book’s influence in the travel industry by claiming tourists going to Myanmar (formerly Burma) is “doing more good than bad.”

Referring to criticisms by human rights groups that income from tourism as a result of Lonely Planet’s “Guide To Myanmar” is helping to prop up the country’s ruling regime and the country’s economy, he said: “I am not going to be an ad agency for Myanmar. Many tourists put money directly into the hands of individual Myanmar people rather than the state coffers, and also help open up a society largely shut off from the world. So going there is doing more good than bad.”

The Planet Wheeler Foundation, said Wheeler, has started a health clinic and a number of other humanitarian projects in Myanmar. “We intend to fund more,” he said.

Beginning with a hand-stapled guide called “Across Asia On The Cheap,” Wheeler and his wife Maureen has built a publishing empire under the Lonely Planet guidebooks, covering virtually “every country on earth” with more than 500 titles. The company will soon publish its 100th million book.

After almost three and a half decades, the empire includes the most-watched “Lonely Planet/ Globe Trekker” television series, and other travel-related products. In 2007, Wheeler sold 75 percent of his company to BBC Worldwide, the commercial division of London-based British Broadcasting Corporation.

“If the BBC decides to withdraw the guide, it would be a deal breaker,” added Wheeler, responding to the pressure being put on his guidebook. “I will sell my remaining shares.”