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About Us

Who is running ITMB?
Click here to get all the dirt on the people behind International Travel Maps...

Excursion to our past, present and future

ITMB Publishing Ltd., which is just a formal way of saying International Travel Maps and Books, began as partnership between a frustrated Australian cartographer who loved South America (and railed against the inadequacies of maps of that continent) and a Canadian map distributor and retailer who was equally frustrated by the lack of maps related to South America for his customers. That was in 1983, when only cartographic houses in Europe published international travel maps and then only of areas of significant travel interest to Europeans. Thus, one could find excellent maps of Malta or the Costa Brava, but exceptionally little related to Africa or Asia, and virtually nothing of any part of Central or South America .

The two bright sparks who spent two weeks together in Vancouver planning to map an entire continent had no money, no resources, and no thought as to how (or by whom) these wonderful maps of South America would be published. It was assumed that established map publishers would love to have maps of the southern portion of the western hemisphere. The cartographer, Kevin Healey, and the businessman, Jack Joyce, blissfully unaware that what they were planning to do was deemed to be completely and utterly mad, if not impossible, self-published, with a very supportive British publisher, Bradt Publications, a two-sheet map of South America at 1:5,000,000 scale in 1984, using artwork previously published by Kevin privately in 1980. Sales provided funds to keep Kevin in peanut butter until the next title (North West South America at 1:4,000,000) was ready to be shown to European map publishers in 1986. Jack duly presented it to every cartographic publishing house in Europe in the hopes that one of them would 'snap it up'. The memory of the howls of derision and contempt expressed by these European firms at the effrontery of two 'colonials' thinking they could make maps, remains fresh forty years later.

Most publishers refused even to look at the artwork; one even turned his back on Jack while they were talking and blithely started a conversation with a colleague. Only one publisher, Rudiger Bosse of Ravenstein Verlag, was encouraging, although he too gave five very good and logical reasons explaining why ITM's attempt was foredoomed to fail, which he was big enough to retract five years later!

Forty years later, ITMB is one of the largest and most successful map publishing houses in the world, with more than 600 maps in print of continents, regions, countries parts of countries, and cities around the world, many of which are two separate maps sharing one sheet of paper. New titles are always under development, and an average of one new map is being published each week, week after week, month after month. This is a production rate unmatched by any other mapping house in the world.

Kevin was a brilliantly artistic cartographer whose titles transcended technical excellence and became sort of works of art. To this day, no one has approached his level of quality or detail - and I'm not just saying that as his publisher. His South America map was finally retired in 2005, after a quarter century in print, and still forms the base of the new digital version of his map, which continues to be the best selling map of the continent in print. His version of Panama is still noted in the Lonely Planet guide book. His map of Canada's west coast Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands revolutionized recreational mapping in Canada. His artwork has all been copied into digital format artwork, and updated, but his work is so accurate that, to this day, no one has surpassed his quality.

The key to ITMB's success was the release of our first country map in 1990, Costa Rica, just as tourism to that country started to explode. Other beautiful creations followed, flowing from Kevin's fertile vision - Belize , Baja California , Mexico , BC's Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands, Yucatan Peninsula , Ecuador , Galapagos Islands, Guatemala , Panama , Venezuela . Suddenly, ITMB was a recognized name and we found ourselves filling a niche that everyone else had ignored. ITMB then began developing recreation maps for British Columbia at the request of the Outdoor Recreation Council, and buying artwork from other publishers to expand our range to include Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica and other travel destinations.

Perhaps because neither partner was sophisticated in the perceived realities of how maps were supposed to be prepared (the "It was good enough for my grandfather" mentality dominated map publishing at that time), or because they 'lucked' upon a business structure that made sense, ITMB started gathering a coterie of excellent independent cartographers and joint venture partners who shared ITMB's growing conviction that long-term success would come from a variety of firms sharing production costs and marketing under a common cover, regardless of ownership. Thus, ITMB worked out a joint venture agreement with the Government of Vietnam in 1992 that created a definitive travel map of that country, to be followed by several other maps, such as detailed regional maps of central and northeastern VN, beautiful maps of Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon and the Mekong Delta, and first-ever maps of Laos and Cambodia that have helped open the doors of tourism for the entire region. We now have our own production facility in Hanoi .

Perhaps the story of ITMB's growth is getting ahead of itself. The actual reality is that ITMB struggled for years to produce and market maps of countries and cities that relatively few people visit. It took eleven years for ITMB to show a profit. Maps of Central and South American travel destinations have, after all, a limited and finite appeal. Also, they sell reasonably well from September to May, but sales are slow during the rest of the year. Kevin and Jack realized pretty quickly that ITMB needed something more than excellent Latino titles to bring in revenue during the 'off' season to stave off starvation.

In 1989, Bob Peart of British Columbia 's Outdoor Recreation Council approached Jack with the idea of preparing maps of selected areas of recreational significance in BC for publishing. The ORC would pay the development costs and own the films, but ITMB would publish the maps and market them. Jack arranged with two cartographers, David Sami and Gyan Verma, who prepared the artwork for the recreational maps, using material provided by the ORC and the provincial government. A dozen titles were produced before the ORC changed direction and stopped mapping, but by then recreational mapping was well-established. ITMB now publishes its own series of BC recreational titles, with such interesting titles as the Bowron Lakes Canoe Route, Algonquin Park, BC's West Coast Trail, and Whistler. We now also publish excellent recreational maps of American destinations and a growing series of famous mountains in Europe and Asia (Everest, Mont Blanc, Fuji, Rocky Mountains, Andes etc.)

Another Canadian cartographer, Eric Leinberger, joined us in 1996, producing our own artwork for maps of Australia and New Zealand and a special series of maps interpreting Canada to map users - Western and Eastern Canada, Alberta/BC, Prairie Provinces , Northwest Territories , and Atlantic Canada. These titles have now largely been replaced by more refined provincial/territorial maps, but Eric showed the way. We now have published maps of each province and territory in Canada (13), and several maps using Canada Map Office artwork, somewhat modified by ourselves to add travel-related information, and we are the third largest publisher of Canadian material in the world (after CMO and GMJ).

In 1999, Andrew Duggan, of Toronto , joined us to focus on a new series - Cities of the World. His first two titles, Montevideo, Uruguay, and Buenos Aries, Argentina, led to Santiago de Chile, Istanbul, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, and a series of American city titles. ITMB is now the world's leading publisher of international world class cities, with more than 100 titles in print. The era of great city maps is probably passing, as technology enables individuals to find their way around urban areas using GPS and Google, but there will always be a steady demand for paper maps of major travel destinations. Volker Schniepp undertook creating the first-ever digital map of any part of Latin America (Uruguay), and followed it with a project to map Peru that took him seven years to complete, as resource material was extremely limited.

Our joint venture with the Government of Vietnam has blossomed into an independent production facility in Hanoi managed by ITMB. Using half a dozen groups of dedicated cartographers, marvelous maps of exotic travel destinations are emerging regularly. We are now using GIS technology quite a bit in creating new maps. We also bring promising young cartographers to Vancouver for extended training.

Stephen Stringall and Gary Sawyer joined us in 1993 to prepare a map of Alaska, which, by the way, has anchored our growing American series of titles ever since. Initially, we ignored the USA for the obvious reason that local publishers were serving the public reasonably well with state and city maps. That all changed in 2007 as the Great Recession swept across the USA and decimated the mapping industry, among many others. Every single publisher of maps in the USA went bankrupt within months, with the exception of National Geographic and a few recreational regional publishers. Suddenly, in the course of a few months, an entire publishing industry shut down. Demand was still present, but supply rapidly dried up. ITMB had developed its marking in the USA by using such firms as Map Link, Treaty Oak, Mapsco, and AMC. Almost overnight, 25 years's worth of marketing expertise disappeared as each of these firms shut down. ITMB responded by devoting all its energy into creating a new series of maps covering major American regions, states, and cities, and is now a major publisher of maps of all of North America, which includes Mexico and Central America.

Stephen also agreed to concentrate on producing high-quality artwork for African countries. Over the next ten years, he created more than two dozen country maps of this almost unmapped continent. His artwork has largely been replaced by more modern digital-format material, now that satellite imagery is available, but the world owes him credit for spending years attempting to map a continent single-handedly. ITMB has dedicated itself to the challenge of mapping Africa comprehensively, and virtually every country of this vast continent has been completed to date, including a brilliant continental map and a series of regional maps. ITMB is the world's number one mapper of Africa. Michaela Fritz, who produced ITMB's award-winning Rwanda/Burundi map, developed the title as a cartographic student in Germany and refined it for publishing by ITMB upon graduation. Torsten Claussen's map of Sierra Leone , also initially prepared as a graduating thesis, was re-worked by him into its current published format after graduating. Kevin Philip, of Zimbabwe, developed maps for ITMB of Swaziland, Bulawayo, and Harare. Gizella Bassa, of Hungary, developed an excellent map of Zimbabwe. The 'dark' continent of Africa is, as a result of the brilliance of these cartographers, emerging as travel destinations for the world to explore.

GIS technology and satellite imagery has revolutionized map production, but the work of the cartographer remains as vital as ever. If GPS mapping is ever to get out of the simplistic style we see in in-car navigation, computer-trained cartographers have a lifetime of work ahead. Also, many parts of the world remain poorly mapped; Africa in particular needs continuous attention, but much work remains to be done in the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and cities in Asia. ITMB still has an enormous amount of work ahead. Although the US and Canada had been well-mapped by others, touristically, most cartographic firms have shut down and new maps need to be prepared for visitors to enjoy. As well, while changing market needs are reducing the need for Rand McNally-type street maps, need for regional, state, and recreational maps of such areas as the USA Pacific Coast, the USA rail network, and the USA Southwest continues to be strong.

ITMB has now completed 40 years in business as a publishing house and retail venture, and has evolved from a couple of incompetents naively deciding to map an entire continent to a professional cartographic publishing house mapping the world, one little piece at a time. We use the latest technology, do our level best to ensure that ITMB maps contain the most accurate and up to date information that can be published, and assertively stake out the entire world for mapping and marketing. ITMB now has 60 titles on Latin America, more than any other publisher, 101 world class city maps, 35 titles on Asia, 45 on Africa, and another 75 on Canada , the USA , and Mexico , with more new and exciting titles being released each week. That's the good news; now, we need to move on to the human toll.

The most painful aspect of ITMB has been left for the last. In 1994, having just completed a beautiful map of Venezuela , Kevin Healey died of heart failure at age 48. Not only was a brilliant cartographic talent cut off in his prime, he was the soul of ITMB and the mentor to the other cartographers. Furthermore, his intimate knowledge of South America and his focused concentration on productivity were legendary. As a business partner, his contribution was crucial to ITMB's success. The relationship joining Kevin and Jack transcended normal business conduct and his death had a profound affect on the structure of the company. Imagine, if you would, Gilbert carrying on without Sullivan, or Rolls without Royce (or, if you prefer, Abbott without Costello). The magic guiding ITMB was the unswerving conviction that what the team was producing was beautiful, accurate, and necessary. Whether or not it made money was not considered. For ten years, the firm's fundamental goal had been to map South America; all else was seen as a means to that end. Suddenly, the one person who could realize that vision was gone. It was devastating on a personal and on a corporate level. It was left to Jack to restructure ITMB and carry on, somewhat sadly, the formidable challenge of mapping the world, with no one in place to fill the master's cartographic shoes.

A new master designer was found, expectedly, in Ha Noi. Thanks to Jack's interest in promoting travel to Vietnam to overcome the trauma caused by the war years in that country and it's effect on America, Jack visited that lovely but isolated (at that time) country in 1992 as a guest of the Vietnamese government, to advise them how to open the country to increased tourism, which at that time was about 2,000 individuals per year. His assigned minder, Do Ngoc Lan, a lovely and talented cartographer and printer working in the government's cartographic printing office, proved to be irresistible. They married in Hanoi in 1995 after a long and difficult courtship and many trips to VN by Jack. She arrived in Vancouver in 1996 as a new Canadian immigrant to find that chaos reigned supreme in ITMB. Over the next decade, she gradually tamed the cartographic monster and developed production standards and digital equipment that now operate smoothly all over the world, whipping electronic files from Russia to Vancouver to Toronto to Vietnam and cowing printers from China to England to Korea with her superb grasp of print technology. Under her iron fisted softness, ITMB has matured and grown into a cartographic house of significance, producing an average of 75 new releases annually. During her 28 year tenure (to date), ITMB has grown from 40 maps to 610.

ITMB is the most international cartographic house anywhere, with production and marketing arrangements operating in parts of the world that most of us don't even realize exist. Much of ITMB's success lies with Lan, with her ability to grasp the essence of a concept and develop it with teams of colleagues who hardly know what she is talking about into a finished piece of artwork that becomes a published map before anyone realizes what is happening. Lan and Kevin were on opposite mapping teams during the American/Vietnam War. They never met. How remarkable that two such strong-willed individuals seized a vision of mapping an entire world, an impossible concept exceeding anyone's grasp, and gradually realized it over a lifetime's dedication to interpreting the world using rapidly-changing technology. We aren't finished yet. GIS technology is revolutionizing how maps are made and improving accuracy precision, and traditional cartography is evolving as a result.

Now, we are in the process of transferring responsibility for mapping the world to the next generation. Lan is showing no signs of wanting to slow down, but Jack has accepted that responsibility and authority must be transferred to someone younger, although he continues to govern the mapping projects from an overall perspective. The business management responsibilities governing ITMB have passed to daughter Phuong and son-in-law Linh so that Jack and Lan can concentrate on developing cartography. This involves a considerable amount of travel to weird and wonderful parts of the world, but someone has to do it. So ,when you contact ITMB or send in an order, you will be dealing with Linh and his team, and when you see a new map coming out, increasingly, Phuong will be behind it, although Lan is far too strong a personality to stop doing what she loves for many years to come. In the meantime, someone has to pick up the grandchildren from school and tell them stories about long ago adventures in Africa and Asia, and remind them that, despite its problems, we live in a world full of exciting things to see and do. That’s my new career.

Sincerely, Jack Joyce, Pres., ITMB Publishing Ltd., and passionate map maker who can't draw a straight line with a ruler, but has ground-truthed 150 countries and has a wife who can design and children prepared to carry on a very unusual business.