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Founder of Lonely Planet takes wandering spirit to Jeju

Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet, speaks during a press conference at Lotte Hotel Jeju on Jeju Island, Monday. (Jeju Olle)
Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet, speaks during a press conference at Lotte Hotel Jeju on Jeju Island, Monday. (Jeju Olle)
The co-founder of the world’s largest travel guide book publisher shared his love of walking after spending a day at Jeju Olle, the famous hiking trail on Jeju Island, Monday.

“Today everything is so fast,” Tony Wheeler, the co-founder of Lonely Planet, told reporters during a press conference on Jeju, after the official opening ceremony of 2011 World Trail Conference.

He was scheduled to give a lecture titled “Walking this Planet” on Monday afternoon as a part of the three-day event.

“We are always jumping on the plane and next day we are somewhere else. We do everything very quickly. But you cannot walk too fast. You can only go one step at a time.”

Wheeler, who referred to himself as an “enthusiastic walker,” was in Nepal last month and travelled by walking for two weeks. Twenty years ago he made it his rule to walk at least once a week.

“When you walk, you meet people,” he said. “If you are going by a car, the other car flashes and goes to the other direction. By walking, you have the time to at least say hello. I think I like walking and people like walking because it goes slowly and it’s a way of meeting the landscape and people.”

Born in England in 1946, Wheeler enjoyed a nomadic lifestyle from an early age. As his father worked for British Airways, Wheeler spent most of his younger years overseas, including Pakistan, the West Indies and the U.S. He and his wife, Maureen, founded Lonely Planet in 1973, by publishing their first travel guide “Across Asia on the Cheap.” The couple had set off for an overland trip to Asia the year before.

Though his first trip to Asia dates back to 1972, it wasn’t until 2002 that Wheeler made it to the Korean Peninsula. That year he visited Pyongyang, North Korea, and then visited Seoul in 2003 for a travel-themed conference. This is Wheeler’s third visit to South Korea, and first to Jeju Island.

Wheeler described North Korea as “the strangest country” he’s ever been to.

The 65-year-old seemed to find a few of the Korea-related questions difficult to answer, especially about Jeju Olle’s bid to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The winners are to be determined by a poll led by the New7Wonders Foundation based in Zurich, Switzerland. The Korean government has allotted 30 billion won into promoting the island and the result is scheduled to be announced on Nov. 12.

Local reporters repeatedly asked Wheeler about the credibility of the Swiss-based organization, and whether he thinks the project is worth Korea’s investment. 

"Look I’m sorry," he said. "I don’t know the foundation of seven wonders. So I can't say they are trustworthy or not. But I would imagine if Korea has invested a lot of money, somebody must have checked their credentials."

Wheeler added that he'll have to "Google" the organization to find out "what the story is."

Wheeler sold Lonely Planet to BBC Worldwide in February this year, but still writes columns for Lonely Planet Magazine every month. Though he insisted he needs more time to explore Jeju to give an opinion about it ― his very first visit to Jeju Olle took place on Sunday ― Wheeler offered a promising gesture.

“I would certainly tell (Lonely Planet) about my impression of Jeju once I go back and they should put more coverage on Jeju Olle.”

Celebrating its second year, the 2011 World Trail Conference brings 470 individuals from 10 different countries to talk about hiking and trail walking, as well as different ways to attract more people and develop tourism. Korea’s celebrated travel writer and advisor to the U.N. Central Emergency Response Fund Han Bi-ya will give a lecture during the event.

The three-day event, which features guests from world hiking and trail spots including Milford Track of New Zealand, Germany’s Romantic Road, and Spain’s St. Jams Way, takes place at Lotte Hotel Jeju and Jeju International Convention Center, and Jeju Olle trails runs till Nov. 9. 


By Claire Lee
(dyc@heraldcorp.com)
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