The Road Less Travelled – Business Lessons from Tony Wheeler

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The Road Less Travelled – Business Lessons from Tony Wheeler


On Wednesday the 11th of March, valued clients and guests of ESV were invited along to hear the remarkable business journey of Tony Wheeler at ESV’s first Business Owners Event for 2015.


A successful travel writer, publishing entrepreneur and co-founder of Lonely Planet, Tony quite literally wrote the book on travelling.  After taking a trip across Asia with his wife Maureen in 1972 (a misguided attempt to “get travel out of their system”), the couple wrote down their experiences in ‘Across Asia on the Cheap’ – the very first Lonely Planet guide book.  Since then, Lonely Planet has grown to become the world’s largest travel guidebook publisher. 



Tony shared his business story with guests at The Studio, Sydney’s highest event space located at the top of Sydney Tower.  He likened the growth of the business to a snowball – this small idea to share their travel tips with others started picking up momentum and growing.  He credited much of the business’ success to the fact he remained personally involved, overseeing the business and writing guidebooks right up until they sold the business to the BBC in 2007.



There is another key element to Lonely Planet’s success that Tony did not explicitly mention, but was nonetheless understood by everyone in the room – his passion for travel.  His incredible travel stories are evidence of his love of adventuring to new places and experiencing different cultures.  It is this passion that fuelled Lonely Planet’s success and that makes Tony such an inspiring story teller.



Beyond travel, Tony had many valuable insights to share with business owners.  For global businesses, Tony advised that that companies need to “meet their market”.  It’s isn’t enough to launch your business in another country – you need to take your business there.  When Lonely Planet launched in America, they physically put themselves in the local market – if you called Lonely Planet in America your call was answered by a local American who worked with the company.



Another element Lonely Planet certainly got right was timing.  Tony and Maureen published their first guidebook at a time when backpacking was growing in popularity and people were taking the “hippie trail” across Asia.  Their guidebooks were aimed at travellers seeking cheap but authentic travel experiences and filled a specific gap in the market.  Similarly, with the transition from traditional publishing to online media, they made the decision to sell the business at the right time.


Although his time at the Helm of Lonely Planet has come to an end, Tony’s passion for travel and storytelling has not faded.  He continues to write stories about his adventures around the globe for Lonely Planet and is heavily involved with Planet Wheeler – a foundation he and Maureen created that funds over 50 projects in the developing world.


It was a real privilege to hear Tony share his incredible business story with us at this event.  ESV will continue to host inspiring business leaders as part of our Business Owners Event series, to share their passion with us and reveal what inspires their own business journey.  Certainly for Tony Wheeler, the key message is to follow your passions – this is the road to success.


Article by Edwina Ring