Cornell University Johnson at Cornell University

Featured Alumni

September 2008

Christina Tunnah, MBA '01: Love of travel leads to Lonely Planet


Christina Tunnah, MBA '01

"Follow your bliss," philosopher Joseph Campbell told us. And that's exactly what Christina Tunnah, MBA '01, did when she became director of marketing for the Americas at travel guidebook publisher Lonely Planet, a job that is a perfect match for her marketing expertise, love of travel, and fluency in multiple languages (she speaks English, Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese).

"I spent the bulk of my life living overseas and my parents instilled a great love of exploration, and cultural, linguistic, and culinary curiosity," says Tunnah. "This formed the basis of my own love of travel and it seemed a natural fit and attraction to pursue a career (through a rather circuitous route through high-tech!) in some aspect of the travel industry."

Formerly a partner and director of sales and marketing at Counter Production LLC, a sustainable business that manufactures solid surfaces composed primarily of more post-consumer and post-industrial glass, Tunnah was looking for something more aligned with her passions when she saw the opportunity at Lonely Planet, which she calls "a lifelong beacon of my travels." So she pulled out all the stops. "In addition to making direct contact, I also reached out to my classmates to see if there was another connection through the network," she says. "And indeed, with the link forged by [classmate] Eddie Gilmartin, MBA '01, I was able to make contact with a senior member of management. The rest is history!"

Lonely Planet has evolved in the three years that Tunnah has been there, she says: "The publishing industry is going through vast changes, as is the travel industry, so the work environment is constantly running at a clipped pace to keep up with and anticipate these dynamic market forces. In October the BBCW (BBC Worldwide) acquired a majority share of Lonely Planet. Their vision has added an incredible jolt of energy and new possibilities that we can tap into to further realize our long-term growth potential. It is an exciting place to be at the moment!"

Below, Tunnah answers questions about her industry, the responsibilities, rewards, and challenges that fill her work days. She also describes how she rebuilt her house to make it a "truly custom, energy-efficient home."

Q. What key issues are affecting your industry today? How is it changing?

Tunnah: Publishing and the book retail store channel in general is constantly being squeezed as buyers look to alternate online channels to buy books. The print side of the business is especially affected by the increasing convenience and use of free, more updated and user-generated travel information that is available on the Internet. Guidebook usage has also dramatically changed as travelers use their portable technologies to get travel information while on the road. Oil prices, airline consolidation, trends in responsible travel and carbon offsetting, housing market downturns, and overall flagging consumer confidence are the economic forces that affect our business on a daily basis.

Q. What is a typical day like for you at Lonely Planet?

Tunnah: The days are long and varied from working on corporate strategy, dealing with channel and trade marketing with our large customers (Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon), fielding brand research and market share studies, collaborating on product development, and doing interviews with the media, to developing and executing consumer marketing campaigns. The days are never dull.

Q. What's the most compelling aspect of your job? The most frustrating?

Tunnah: The most compelling is working with a talented management team in creating the long-term strategy and developing my team's capabilities to meet those challenges. The frustrations are universal: optimizing the limited resources of people, time and budget to achieve tactical and strategic goals.

Q. You wrote in a Class Note: "I recently rebuilt my home that I primarily designed myself." Can you tell me a little more about that?

Tunnah: I bought a lovely small home in Berkeley that need major upgrades. Fortunately, I learned a lot about the construction and architecture business from my partnership in the solid surface manufacturing business, so I was able to leverage that knowledge and interest in home design for my own project. I tapped into a network of former business associates and friends who are fabricators, contractors, glass blowers and metal workers to build a truly custom, energy-efficient home. I even scavenged junk yards and other projects' cast offs for my sinks, claw foot tub (which I refinished myself), deck railings and restaurant stove!