The founder of Lonely Planet has fended off criticism after Cork was voted one of the top 10 places to visit in 2010 this week. Speaking at a travel conference in Galway, Tony Wheeler says he was overwhelmed by how much debate there was surrounding Cork, after it was voted one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 destinations. As the rebel county embraced the recognition, it sparked a nationwide debate on the airwaves, with some claiming Cork lacks the charm to be awarded iconic status. Lonely Planet’s front man, however, defended the decision by his publishing company to include Cork on the list, and claims the reason for the city’s entry is down to a number of factors. “Firstly the island’s Lonely Planet author would have said Cork is brilliant and deserves more attention. Also the Europe regional guide has a commissioning editor who would have picked Cork as a really happening place.” Tony says there was a similar reaction in New York two years ago when Brooklyn was heralded as one of the top destinations by Lonely Planet. “There was uproar in Manhattan, but the people in Brooklyn were delighted.”
Tony’s return to Ireland this week coincided not just with the launch of Lonely Planet’s 2010 hit list, but also to speak about a growing trend of adventure and activity holidays in Ireland. According to Failte Ireland the adventure holiday sector generates revenue of approximately €1.1 billion annually. Also this area of tourism is proving to be a lucrative market with activity tourists spending up to 40% more than the average tourist. Tony not only agrees that adventure and activity tourism is on the rise, but that it is crucial to anyone travelling in a recession. “People are trying to make their money go further and that is why adventure holidays are great. It makes sense to go off on a walking or cycling holiday as it is much cheaper than renting a car and driving around some place.” His recognition of the “staycation” is also at the forefront of Lonely Planet’s guidebooks, and changes have been made to encourage readers with more ideas for holidaying close to home if they can’t afford farflung destinations.
While the “staycation” is still a rather gloomy proposition for many Irish holidaymakers who crave the sun, Tony doesn’t believe that is a reason not to enjoy a holiday in Ireland. He claims our weather is in fact part of the attraction. “At the moment here in Galway there is wind, rain and the sun is shining all at once, “he says. “If you don’t like the weather, you just wait fifteen minutes,” he adds. Tony’s upbeat attitude to travel is what makes him so popular in the industry and successful in his world domination. Since the company started from humble beginnings in 1972 - when Tony and his wife Maureen wrote a book on how to travel around Southeast Asia on a shoestring – it is now developed into a multi million euro business that publishes over 500 books and has 400 staff.
So are there any countries or destinations that remain undiscovered by Lonely Planet? “There are always new places to find and explore,” says Tony. “I try and go to at least a few new ones every year. I would be disappointed if there wasn’t a new place to visit. This year I went to Malawi and then Costa Rica which is a bit like Ireland with lots of adventure.”
Next year his wife Maureen is off to Charleston in America (as voted in Lonely Planet’s 2010 hit list) while Tony has yet to narrow down his wish list. Cork aside, Lonely Planet’s nine other desirable destinations for next year include Cuenca, Sarajevo, Abu Dhabi, Kyoto, Lecce, Singapore, Vancouver, Istanbul, and Charleston. Tony rates Sarajevo as one of the most intriguing. “It was once totally off the radar and now it is back on it. Similarly Cork has been getting more popular all the time.” In fact Cork was one of the first places that Tony visited in the early years of Lonely Planet. His preference is Cobh to Cork city and he remembers his fascination with the Titanic and the Lusitania during his first visit to the seaside town. “I have a friend who has been to every single country in the world but I haven’t got to his stage quite yet.” says Tony with an obvious intention to achieve this record some day. Perhaps if he is not scuba diving in the Pacific, or eating delicious noodles in Singapore, he might come back to Cork next year to see if the city really deserves the Lonely Planet title.