It began with a year-long overland trip by newlyweds Tony and Maureen Wheeler. Today, with offices open in Australia, the U.S., France and England, travel guide publisher Lonely Planet is celebrating its 25th anniversary. To mark the occasion, it has published its first hardcover coffee-table book, Chasing Rickshaws.

Though privately held, Lonely Planet has grown into a sizable company, racking up sales of $10 million in North and South America alone in fiscal 1998, according to U.S. general manager Eric Kettunen. Projected worldwide sales for 1999, he said, are $35 to $40 million on net sales of 3.5 million to four million units.

According to Kettunen, "The thing that sets us apart from other travel guide companies is that right from the beginning, Tony Wheeler planted the seeds for worldwide distribution. And that puts us in the unique position that we can publish a guidebook about almost any place in the world, and it will still make a reasonable return." Today, 36% of sales come from the Americas. The company's largest market is Europe (44%), while 20% of sales come from Australia and the rest from Asia and Africa.

The home office in Melbourne is still the largest, with a staff of 200. The Oakland, Calif., office, which recently moved to new, more spacious quarters, went through an expansion and the staff there now numbers 85; the London and Paris offices have 32 staff members between them.

The company has more than 350 titles in print and each year publishes 20 to 25 new ones. Since it thinks of itself as a "travel information" publisher rather than just a travel guide publisher, keeping the material current is key; every two to three years, existing titles are revised.

Expanding on its original travel guide concept, the Lonely Planet list now also includes On a Sh string Guides, Walking Guides, travel atlases, phrasebooks, Pisces Books (for diving and snorkeling buffs) and Journeys (a series on travel literature). The company also publishes a free quarterly newsletter called Planet Talk, offers the Lonely Planet Travel Center website at, puts out audio packs for language instruction and produces Lonely Planet television, a travel series broadcast on the Travel Channel.

The Paris office is dedicated primarily to creating French editions, the first step, according to Kettunen, in a plan under serious consideration to publish editions in several different languages, including Spanish and Chinese.