1 September 2008 by Pete Mathers
Owned and run by the McGeary family for over 80 years, Australian Pacific Touring (APT) has grown from a single makeshift bus to the most awarded touring company in Australia, taking over 150,000 people on holiday every year. Pete Mathers talks to current chairman, Geoff McGeary.
"People are no longer happy just to travel from A to B. They’re seeking experiences instead"
Is innovation the Key then?
You’ve got to be innovative and flexible, but we’ve had something more than that. We’ve been able to anticipate trends, to successfully predict what people are going to want. That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Planning, booking, lining up, establishing and promoting what’ll be big in the future. It’s a real skill and we’re normally right.
Where do you get yours ideas?
It comes from experience. Personally I like being at the coalface, chatting to people on trips myself. I recently escorted 150 people on one of our river trips through Russia. Over the 15 days I dined with as many as I could, to find out what they were interested in and where they wanted to go next. I test ideas and destinations on people all the time.
A lot must have changed in 80 years. Do the demands of modern travellers differ from previous generations?
People are no longer happy just to travel from A to B. They’re seeking experiences instead, and often looking to travel in smaller groups. Our smallgroup tours tend to be aimed at the more adventurous, reaching remote and exotic areas in Australia like the Kimberley [a vast wilderness in Western Australia]. Like the game parks of Africa, we’ve our own private lodges and camps. We’ve 23 in total now. One camp in the Bungle Bungles [a national park in the Kimberley known for its beehive domes of colourful rock] has a canvas roof that folds back so you can dine beneath the stars. Before dinner you’ll have canapés round a campfire, then go back to the fire for coffee. It’s quality accommodation that offers an experience of the last frontier. People are looking for experiential travel.
Can anyone find something to suit them at APT?
Most of our customers are retired or nearly retired. They’re already experienced travellers, often looking to be a bit more adventurous. They come back again and again because they understand that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. They’re looking for value, for service and for something new. They know what they want and don’t want to be messed about. They tell their friends when they come home happy. It’s old-fashioned I know, but it works. We’ve also an upmarket operation called The Captain’s Choice Tour. We’ll charter a train along the Silk Road, or a Monarch aircraft that we’ll reconfigure to Business Class. Ninety people can travel all the way through Africa or South America on the same plane, with the same staff to greet them as they get on and off. It’s like a family travelling together.
Speaking of which, how important to you is being a family- owned business?
Everyone’s perfect holiday is to go away with the owner of the business personally escorting them. But you just can’t do that every time. So you try to create a business with a family feel. My own son and daughter are still involved in the business, and many of our staff have been with us for 30 years. For many it was their first job, then they married, sometimes to people within the company, and in several cases their children have come to work for us. So it’s not just my family, it’s the family concept. Isn’t that what the industry is all about … service and people?
Do you still travel widely yourself?
Often. Travel is in our blood; it’s in our family. I guess it’s like being in the circus. Circus people are circus people. We’re travel people.
What have been your favourite journeys to date?
I love the Outback and the Kimberley, and I’ve travelled across the Simpson Desert [central Australia]. But then I also love Europe. The river ships between Amsterdam, Budapest and the Black Sea are the fastest growing parts of our business. We’ve six ships and two more on order. Cruising down the Rhone, the Danube or the Maine, even down the Volga from Moscow to St
Destinations- Styles of Touring
Australia: Flight-inclusive Tours
New Zealand: Land-only Tours
Canada: Escorted Tours
Alaska: Independent Tours
China: Regional Mini Stays
South: America Small Group Adventures
Europe: Day Tours
Luxury River Cruises
For more information call your Wexas touring specialist on 020 7581 8761.