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Myanmar-LonelyPlanet 05-01 Web

Publisher defends travel guide

The founder of one of the world’s largest travel publishing companies defended its much-criticized guide to Myanmar today, saying tourists going to the military-ruled country are doing more good than bad.

The Lonely Planet’s guide to Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been attacked by human rights groups who say income from tourism helps prop up the generals who run the country and control many sectors of the economy.

"I am not going to be an ad agency for Burma, but going there is doing more good than bad," Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler said in an interview.

He argued that 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.

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He said that BBC Worldwide, which bought a 75 share of Wheeler’s company last year, was also being pressured by critics of the book.

"If BBC decides to withdraw the guide, it would be a deal breaker," Wheeler said, indicating he would sell his remaining shares. BBC Worldwide is the commercial arm of the London-based British Broadcasting Corporation.

Wheeler said his Planet Wheeler Foundation has started a health clinic and a number of other humanitarian projects in Myanmar and intends to fund more.

Wheeler and his wife Maureen began with a hand-stapled guide called "Across Asia on the Cheap," and in three and a half decades built an empire with more than 500 titles, television productions and other travel-related products. Lonely Planet guides, often called "backpacker Bibles," cover virtually every country on earth.

Wheeler, in Bangkok to attend a conference on tourism and global warming, said the company was approaching the printing of its 100 millionth book.

The guides took a credibility hit earlier this month when one of its writers, Thomas Kohnstamm, wrote in a memoir that sections of his 2005 guide to Brazil were based on secondhand information and outright invention, partly because the company didn’t give him enough money to do proper research.

Wheeler said that there has been little fallout from the revelations and that the Brazil guide has been replaced with a new edition. The company said earlier that it stood by the accuracy of its guides.

"On the other hand, it’s a wake-up call. You have to keep an eye out on your authors," Wheeler said.

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