They are the gurus of globetrotting, the men who built publishing empires from their adventures and wrote guidebooks encouraging millions to venture further afield than ever before. Now the founders of the Rough Guides and Lonely Planet books, troubled that they have helped spread a casual attitude towards air travel that could trigger devastating climate change, are uniting to urge tourists to fly less.
Mark Ellingham, the founder of Rough Guides, and Tony Wheeler, who created Lonely Planet after taking the hippie trail across Asia, want fellow travellers to "fly less and stay longer" and donate money to carbon offsetting schemes. From next month, warnings will appear in all new editions of their guides about the impact of flying on global warming alongside alternative ways of reaching certain destinations.
But the founders of the UK's two biggest travel publishers are refusing to give up flying and admit they are not paragons of environmental virtue.
Asked if he felt guilty about the hundreds of flights he has undertaken, Mr Wheeler - visiting London on a business trip from Australia - said: "Absolutely. I'm the worst example of it. I'm not going to stop but every time I jump on a plane I think, 'oh no, I'm doing it again.'"
Lonely Planet began when Mr Wheeler and his wife, Maureen, travelled - mostly by bus and rickshaw - from London to Australia in the 1970s, cobbling together a guide on their way. Six million copies of more than 600 different LP guidebooks are sold each year, inspiring backpackers and middle-class tourists to take long-haul flights to exotic destinations.
Both men have also pledged to donate money to the charity Climate Care to offset the carbon emissions of their 650 staff who fly around the world every year compiling and updating their travel books. In Rough Guides, the warnings will come under the "getting there" sections of all new editions and will emphasise alternative forms of travel. The guide to Paris, for example, will recommend taking the train.
The men accept it is less easy to take an alternative route to Peru, but instead preach that travellers should spend longer in one place and cut out frivolous weekend hops. A Rough Guide to Climate Change will join more than 200 Rough Guide travel books later this year.
Mr Ellingham, who produced the first Rough Guide with student friends in 1982 after travelling round Greece, recognised their advice could look hypocritical. "Like so much in life, it's a contradiction but we are uniquely well-placed to address travellers," he said. "We've got a responsibility to make people aware of the information about climate change so people have a less casual attitude towards flying. We want to show that two companies who are direct rivals feel this is an issue important enough to coordinate and cooperate on."
While air travel is predicted to increase threefold in the next 20 years, Mr Ellingham denied his company had encouraged the surge in flying. "I'm not sure we could or should claim any responsibility for increasing travel or tourism. Were Rough Guides and the Lonely Planet to disappear overnight would people travel less? Not really."
The guides will not tell travellers how many holiday flights each year are acceptable. "It's even more hypocritical to try to preach to people and say you should only fly this much," said Mr Ellingham.
The Rough Guides founder said he had reduced his air travel and would personally support a moratorium on airport expansion, as well as increased departure and arrival taxes. "I wouldn't promote myself as a paragon of virtue in that but I'm certainly cutting down on casual travel. If someone invited me to a stag party in Prague I wouldn't go - what's wrong with Bournemouth?"
Both men recognised that carbon offsetting schemes were not a perfect solution but argued that they demonstrated people were increasingly aware of the pollution they were causing and were "better than doing nothing".
They do not mind if their advice discourages people from travelling and hits sales of their books. "I'd rather customers bought one book today than no books at all tomorrow," said Mr Wheeler. "If we do real damage to our planet we're not going to be able to travel anywhere. We want our kids to be able to travel as well."
How to travel guilt-free
The Rough Guide says: "Xi Hu - the lake around which Hangzhou curls - and its shores still offer wonderful Chinese vistas of trees, hills, flowers... and pagodas".
Cost of return flight in emissions: 1.8 tons of CO2
Cost of offsetting it: £15.80 to tree-planting scheme in the UK.
The Lonely Planet says: "Jaipur - Rajasthan's dusky-and-dirty pink capital twinkles and clatters under the sunlight".
Cost of return flight in emissions: 1.5 tons of CO2
Cost of offsetting it: £16.50 to an eco-fuelled boiler scheme in Scotland.
The Lonely Planet says: "Ko Tao is this century's diamond in the rough ... the local folk are more involved in fishing and growing coconuts than tourism."
Cost of return flight in emissions: 2.1 tons of CO2
Cost of offsetting it: £21.30 to a solar-panel scheme in Sri Lanka.
The Lonely Planet says: "San Juan... is where the island's heartbeat is - a place of great economic opportunity, beautiful, gleaming casinos and hotels, multiple art galleries, museums and a sophisticated nightlife."
Cost of return flight in emissions: 1.5 tons of CO2
Cost of offsetting it: £15.90 towards energy-saving projects in the Carribean.
The Lonely Planet says: "The name Marrakech conjures up images of medieval bazaars, labyrinths filled with exotic smells and the cries of hawkers, sunlit squares hidden from the outside world and a musical accompaniment to a way of life little changed in centuries."
Cost of return flight in emissions: 0.8 tons of CO2
Cost of offsetting it: £9.70 towards forestry in Uganda.
© Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006