APT: 85 years and going strong

APT: 85 years and going strong
By admin

"It's the dreaming," says a tanned Geoff McGeary wistfully as he looks out the boardroom window of APT's suburban Melbourne headquarters on his first day back in the office after a two week trip to Tahiti. "It's dreaming of the experiences and destinations and that's what I enjoy."

APT has conquered river cruising, 4WD adventures, rail journeys and coach tours. Even natural deterrents to people travelling – terrorism and unpredictable economic conditions – do not perturb McGeary particularly.

In fact, for the man in control of one of Australia's leading tour companies, current world conditions have colluded to create the perfect storm. "I'd be very happy if the world just stayed as it is at the moment – a little bit of trouble here and there, a little bit of uncertainty, the Australian dollar high. Europe still trying to sort itself out five years from now would just be lovely. That'd be perfect,"  McGeary says.

And on APT's 85th anniversary, the man responsible for its success has no intention of slowing down. As the biggest Australian-owned tour operator, patriotism is less important to McGeary than family ownership. Supported by his son who works in investments and his daughter who works for Kimberley Wilderness Adventures, APT runs through the McGeary family veins, with the legacy beginning with Geoff McGeary's father, Bill.

The signs of success were there from the early days. A 19 year old Geoff McGeary was tasked with running what was to become APT when Bill was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The tenacious younger McGeary ran the company from the front of the bus, balancing office documents on top of the dashboard. To avoid the company being sold he had to earn an income, and he could only achieve that by driving the buses himself and doing the paperwork in between.

That was in 1956 and McGeary has been at the helm ever since. While he is clearly at retirement age, he assures Travel Weekly that he won't be ceasing work anytime soon and that new projects keep him young.

He certainly has a youthful exuberance for the industry that is evident when he recalls seeing empty seats onboard new A380 aircraft. "I thought – they are going to have to fill those seats and people don't fly in planes to fly in planes, they fly in planes to get to the cookie jar at the other end and I have the cookie jars," he says.

APT went international in 1993 when McGeary sold out of a partnership in AAT Kings. But it wasn't because this global foray was too risky a proposition for his business partner. "Probably in those days it was considered unnecessary," he says.

McGeary knew it was crucial to take Australia to the world and such foresight underscores the success of APT. Five years ago the operator predicted the rise of river cruising and now McGeary tips expedition cruising as the next big thing, and APT is putting its money where its mouth is by buying a stake in small ship operator Noble Caledonia.

While McGeary prides himself on his ability to divine what travellers want next, he knows that APT's diverse offering, from Topdeck's youth focus to Captain's Choice high-end product, is not without its hardships. "It's a challenge to retain the skills to be an expert in all those areas, but after 85 years you gradually grow into these things," he says.

Word of mouth referrals are essential to APT and customers report a 98% level of satisfaction with their travel experiences. One question posed to capture repeat customers is where the respondents want to go next time. "It's quite amazing because people get this bug, it catches them and it's almost like they are obsessive about getting through it," McGeary says.

McGeary believes there is a boom bigger than mining happening right under our noses, and that is in the retiree market. With many of his friends at retirement age, he has an advantage in knowing what the market wants. "Life spans are getting longer and longer, so that a once-in-a-lifetime trip is now what I call a many-in-a-lifetime trip," he says.

The APT website gets millions of hits but very few bookings, and McGeary believes his customers rely on the assurance and blessing of an independent travel agent. He expects that the future will bring a combination of bricks and clicks and that Australia will be the last country to close the door on traditional travel agents.

McGeary may be office-bound on his first day back, but that doesn't stop the dreaming as he heads off to a staff meeting to plan the new places APT will go.

Email the Travel Weekly team at traveldesk@travelweekly.com.au


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