Pioneers of the industry
AT a time when business is evolving at phenomenal pace, the travel industry is showing its characteristic resilience and ability to adapt. Yet in a sector that places such importance on looking towards the next challenge, it’s easy to forget the pioneers who have already steered the industry through periods of monumental change, or founded the institutions we take for granted in the modern travel landscape.
This month travelBulletin nominates some of Australia’s travel trailblazers — just a few of the industry stalwarts who helped lay the foundations for our journey from carbon-printed tickets into the digital age.
Kevin Dale’s story is one that proves you don’t necessarily need to have a clearly defined career path to achieve professional success.
Having very little idea about what he wanted to do when he left school at 16, Dale found himself contemplating a future in the unknown or working on his parent’s dairy farm at Drouin in West Gippsland.
It wasn’t long before he found himself gravitating towards the people-facing side of the farming industry, cultivating skills such as public speaking and event management with the Victorian Young Farmers.
But it was at the age of 28 that Dale had his “lightbulb moment”.
“The local travel agency in Warragul was up for sale. It was exactly what I was looking for and it changed my life,” Dale believes.
Having cut his teeth in the travel industry in rural Australia and achieving some outstanding sales results, Dale decided to take another big risk and move to the United Kingdom to open a chain of indoor cricket centres.
Despite the seachange, Dale was able to enjoy considerable financial success through the venture with his two partners, a business foray he believes instilled in him what it takes to “work in a tough commercial environment”.
After four years, Dale headed home to Australia where he dipped his toe in a variety of diversified business interests, from manufacturing to property development.
While again experiencing some great financial returns, it was clear there was one industry which still owned his heart.
“Travel, while possibly less lucrative, remained my passion,” Dale said.
He purchased Herald Sun Travel and renamed it National Network Travel, winning numerous awards. However, as was the case many times in his professional life, he was not one prepared to simply rest on his laurels.
“It was becoming apparent that the future for independent travel agents lay in banding together to negotiate better deals to compete with emerging giants such as Flight Centre,” Dale said.
He helped form a co-operative (VTAC later ATAC), becoming chairman for eight years and working alongside Jim Clements to grow the group to 70 agents. Further ventures included the founding of Cruiseco group with Phil Hoffmann which over the next 17 years became a cruise retailing powerhouse.
“Phil and I gained so much satisfaction from that. I remain chairman and with new ceo Amanda McClelland look forward to continued success,” Dale said.
In the mid-2000s Dale believes there was a “huge upheaval” that saw independent agencies lose bargaining power.
“Andrew Jones, Trevor Jones and I formed the Magellan Travel Group to break that mould,” Dale said.
After 10 years he decided to semi-retire and leave the group that had become a huge success. “I consider it one of my greatest successes, but I am also bitterly disappointed by the unedifying scramble that ensued when the founders tried to take most of the money for themselves, eventually settling for about half [in the recent sale to Helloworld],” he says.
IN A sector seemingly overflowing with new ships, concepts and products, Diane Patrick likes to point out that the current pace of cruise ship innovation is not necessarily new.
As managing director of specialist GSA Wiltrans International, Patrick has represented some of the world’s best-known luxury cruise brands over the past three decades — from their infancy in the Australian market through to household-name status.
“We talk a lot today about the specialty restaurants and celebrity chefs that cruise lines are introducing,” Patrick said.
“But Royal Viking Line had (the late French Michelin-star chef) Paul Bocuse overseeing his Royal Grill when they launched the Royal Viking Sun in 1988,” she said. “We forget how long ago cruise lines were looking at new things like this.”
It was Royal Viking Line that first instigated Patrick’s journey in the cruise industry, in which she has represented other brands including Crystal Cruises, Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises and currently Paul Gauguin Cruises.
Having started her career in wholesaling in 1969 and later operated her own travel agency in Sydney under the American Express banner, she made the decision to specialise in cruise in 1987, joining Wiltrans as it embarked on its representation of Royal Viking in the Australian market.
“Royal Viking Line was probably the first of the new mode of luxury cruise lines,” Patrick said of the long-standing operator, which was wound up and merged into Cunard Line in the early 1990s. “It really was genuinely luxurious,” she said.
Patrick’s initial role at Wiltrans was as national manager of sales and marketing, when the company was owned by global shipping company Wilhemsen Lines. She soon after became general manager and later managing director, then in 2002 purchased the company in partnership with her late husband James, a chartered accountant.
“We were very privileged to represent several of the luxury lines at the same time, as one company,” she said. “I think that was thanks to the way we looked after our principals and looked after our travel agents — we set a base to always have that professionalism, integrity and agency support.”
Patrick has also been a leader in the wider industry’s development in Australia, having been a co-founder of the International Cruise Council Australasia (now Cruise Lines International Australasia) in 1996. She also served as an early chairperson, from 1997 to 1999, following in the footsteps of Sarina Bratton.
“It was a wonderful time to be in cruising — and it still is a wonderful time — but the evolution of the on-board product was so dynamic through those years,” Patrick said of her pioneering days.
As for the future, she sees no end to the cruise industry’s innovation and its ability to adapt swiftly to passenger demands.
“I only see more opportunities,” she said. “If I was a travel agent, I would certainly be trying to have cruising as a major segment in my agency.”
When Greg Mortimer led his first expedition to Antarctica in 1990, he found his place. As the expedition leader on one of the first Russian ships heading to the great white land, Mortimer loved the combination of having an icebreaker “to play with” and being in a wild environment with people who were largely out of their natural environment.
Wild places were not unfamiliar for Mortimer, who is most widely known as one of the first two Australians to successfully climb Mount Everest without oxygen. His team’s ascent was the first via the North face and Great Couloir and is now one of the established routes used to climb the mountain.
Between 1983 and 1990, Mortimer continued to conquer great feats. He was one of the first Australians to climb K2, the first to climb Annapurna II by its south face, the first Australian to climb Antarctica’s highest peak, Vinson Massif, and the first to climb Mount Minto in the Admiralty mountains of Antarctica. He also trained as a geochemist and geologist, has worked as a survival-training instructor and as a Scientific Affairs Adviser for the New Zealand Antarctic Division.
Jump forward to 1991 and Mortimer and his wife Margaret founded Aurora Expeditions. He described the company’s origins as “really threadbare shoe-string”, beginning as a desk in the World Expeditions office. That year, Aurora Expeditions took a sub-charter of a Quark Expeditions voyage and started looking for people to go to Antarctica with. “The following year we took white-lipped risks and out of naivety, we took on substantial charter of Russia ships,” he said. “Very quickly, over the next few years we took over one of those ships and started running it for full seasons,” Mortimer explained.
Aurora Expeditions was founded after the Mortimers identified an opportunity and saw “there was joy and business to be had in taking people to the extreme places in the world on ships,” he explained. “It is deeply satisfying stuff because you have an impact on people.” It was the human connection which continued as a driver for Mortimer, emphasising that if people became numbers, he would know it was time to give it up.
Today Mortimer lives on a small farm in the Blue Mountains with his wife. Although he is no longer financially involved in Aurora Expeditions, in the last year has stepped back in to help with design of the line’s new ship set to debut in 2019. Aurora Expeditions is naming the new edition the Greg Mortimer to honour its founder– a decision Mortimer said he still finds a bit cringe-worthy.
Finally, Mortimer said his advice for others in the industry is to find their own philosophical base.
“Don’t do it to make money, do it to make a difference,” he said.
Kenyan-born Peter Baily admits his entry into touring in the late 1960s was more “by default” than choice, at a time when there was little professionalism, structure and very few companies organising tours.
“People were going out and doing adventurous things that you can’t do nowadays,” Baily told travelBulletin.
Baily spent his early years in the industry behind the wheel navigating overland tours from London to Cape Town with his brother Tim. Their business was named Siafu, the Swahili name for the southern African solider ant, recognised for its perseverance.
“Once those ants start moving you can’t stop them. And that was our philosophy. Once you got on the road we just wouldn’t stop until we got to the other end. In those days it was quite an achievement to make it to the end,” Baily said.
The brothers pioneered the overland space, operating three-month itineraries through the heart of Africa, taking in 13 countries that would occasionally require bribe payments at border crossings. The driving of their Land Rovers would be split between passengers, and decisions had to be “made on the fly”.
“One time we went off course for three days in a desert and were running low on water,” Baily admitted. “These days, thanks to technology and social media, if you go off track by about 200 to 300 metres someone on the trip would know about it in a minute,” he quipped.
In 1975, Baily moved to Australia and over the next 20 years put his expert knowledge of Africa to good use with roles at Adventure World and Bench International (now Bench Africa).
When the Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) split from the Australian Federation of Travel Agents in 1998, Baily was appointed as the organisation’s original chairman. When he retired several years later from Bench International, CATO created the general manager title specifically for him.
It was his work at CATO over the past 20-25 years that was his most rewarding. During that time he played a key role in successfully lobbying to have GST excluded from international travel (a three-year battle), opened up communication channels between outbound tour operators and DFAT, and worked with the ACCC to introduce price advertising guidelines on travel and accommodation. More recently, Baily helped AFTA introduce the AFTA Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS) following the demise of the TCF.
Baily says seeing the evolution of the touring space over the past 50 years “has probably been my biggest buzz”.
“I’ve been in outbound and pure touring all my life and it’s really fantastic to see companies like Bunnik Tours and Wendy Wu doing so well and how they do it so professionally now.”
Baily retired from CATO earlier this year.
‘Start as you mean to go on.’ It’s a phrase that could have been coined by South Australian travel industry legend Phil Hoffmann himself, after embarking on his professional travel journey in 1980 by boldly nominating himself as manager of his mate’s travel agency, Stewart Moffat Travel.
With a teaching degree and several years travelling the world already under his belt, Hoffmann admits the travel bug had well and truly bit, so when the opportunity arose, he decided to level up his professional role — and the rest, as they say, is history.
Hoffmann remained in the role for 10 years, before the business was sold and the friends went their separate ways. He had garnered a great deal of both business and travel experience since those early days, and decided to throw caution to the wind once more, opening the doors to Phil Hoffmann Travel in 1990. “Going out on your own in the beginning is one thing, but sustainable success in the travel industry cannot be a DIY pursuit,” he told travelBulletin. “It relies on surrounding yourself with outstanding and passionate people.”
It’s this very dedication to employing — and keeping — the right staff, coupled with the company’s strong client-focused approach that makes Phil Hoffmann Travel stand out in today’s crowded market. “Coming from a teaching background, I am an absolute believer in the importance of education and continuous personal development,” he said. “Given the constant change within our industry, employee training is essential to remaining at the forefront of customer service.”
A career highlight for the pioneering businessman was his key role in setting up the Australian Federation of Travel Agents’ (AFTA) training college, of which he was a director for 13 years. He worked hard lobbying airlines and wholesalers to raise the levels of integrity and credibility for the global travel industry, a role he says “had been previously lacking”.
But it’s Hoffmann’s commitment to his clients that is perhaps his most endearing quality, with his firm belief that building and maintaining customer relationships has helped him survive in an age where smaller agencies are often swallowed up by the bigger players. “Despite our growth over the years, we haven’t lost sight of the vital importance of establishing and maintaining personal relationships with our clients,” he said firmly. “Our vision is to look after clients for life; we’ve worked extremely hard to build a reputation for our personal and friendly service, and an experienced travel consultant still has a very important role to play as the trusted advisor to anyone wanting the best possible travel experience.”
Today, Phil Hoffmann Travel employs more than 200 staff across 10 branches throughout South Australia. Each is strongly entwined in its local community, giving back to local charities and helping local businesses through its community sponsorship program. “We take our role as corporate citizens very seriously,” Hoffmann said. “Each staff member receives two days a year to volunteer for a non-profit organisation, which not only provides benefits to the charity itself, but does a lot for our own staff morale.”
Hoffmann is an active member of the Adelaide Convention & Tourist Authority, as well as serving as chairman on the board of the South Australian Tourism Commission. He has received numerous accolades for his dedication to industry training and his community work, most notably as a Member of the Order of Australia, which he received in 2013.
James & Hayley Baillie
When James and Hayley Baillie opened Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island in 2008, they created a whole new look for Australian tourism.
Within months of its opening, images of the striking property and its spectacular location were appearing across the pages of glossy magazines from Paris to New York. The island had been placed on the world stage, and Australia no longer seemed to lag so far behind New Zealand in the luxury lodge stakes.
“We were very much aware of the burgeoning local and international market for a new breed of Australian luxury lodges,” said James Baillie. “New Zealand had enjoyed success with its high-end experiential lodges in magnificent locations for many years, and so we realised this was an untapped sector in Australia.”
South Australia’s Kangaroo Island had been on the itineraries of visiting US travellers for several years, Baillie said “and when we were shown the site on the island’s remote southwest coast — surrounded by incredible natural icons and roaming native wildlife — we knew it was the spot”.
Five years in the making, Southern Ocean Lodge was a collaboration between the Baillies and architect Max Pritchard. It combines contemporary design with local food and wine, a dramatic cliff-top location and a series of natural experiences close by.
But it wasn’t the Baillies’ first project. The husband and wife team began in 2004 with the opening of Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island, offering their own brand of “barefoot luxury” at the foot of the island’s soaring volcanic peaks, Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird.
Nor was it their last. Today their portfolio also includes the luxury desert camp Longitude 131 at Uluru, while a fourth lodge is in the planning stages, to be developed on a site in Tasmania over the next two years.
Though not alone among luxury lodge operators in Australia, the Baillies have successfully elevated the concept to new prominence and helped ensure the high-end experiential traveller remains front of mind among the country’s tourism marketers. They were instrumental in creating the Luxury Lodges of Australia group to promote the sector at an international level, while Hayley Baillie is a Tourism Australia board member and has been a key contributor to the body’s Restaurant Australia marketing campaign.
The Baillies’ area of specialty is no surprise given their backgrounds. James spent much of his early career in high-end resorts and was the managing director of P&O Resorts Australia. Hayley is a former expedition cruise leader, and as the daughter of entrepreneur and explorer Dick Smith has spent a lifetime in pursuit of unspoilt natural locations.
With their own expansion plans underway, the couple still see room for luxury lodges to become a major growth segment for Australia.
“Savvy tourism operators and hoteliers have seen the robust success of the luxury lodges and are keen to play a part in it,” James Baillie said. “We see it as the growth of the whole sector; it just becomes a larger, richer pie.”
Perhaps the best-known of Australia’s cruise industry identities, Sarina Bratton became the first woman to found a cruise line in 1997 when she launched Norwegian Capricorn Line, then pioneered luxury expedition cruising in the Asia Pacific region in 2004 when she introduced Orion Expedition Cruises.
She spent 14 years with Cunard Line, ultimately as vice president and general manager Asia Pacific, and was the first chairperson of the International Cruise Council of Australia (now Cruise Lines International Association — Australasia). Today she serves as chairman Asia Pacific and special advisor for Ponant and has a string of accolades to her name including an Order of Australia for services to tourism and the 2006 Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year Award.
The formidable chief executive officer of Helloworld Travel was just 26 when he founded the Australian Outback Travel Company, better known today as AOT. Andrew Burnes had studied law and commerce at Melbourne University and worked as a solicitor at Blake Dawson Waldron, but ultimately Australia’s wide open spaces proved a stronger calling for the young entrepreneur who launched a range of 4WD tours from Cairns to destinations like Cape York and the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Over the following decades he and wife Cinzia managed successive expansions that culminated with the merger of AOT with Helloworld Travel in January 2016.
He has also been a deputy chairman of Tourism Australia, honorary treasurer of the Liberal Party and chairman of the Australian Tourism Export Council.
Roy and Karen Merricks
As the co-founders of MTA — Mobile Travel Agents, Roy and Karen Merricks were among the first to champion the home-based evolution of travel retailing.
Inspired by the models emerging from the US and Europe, the Merricks adapted the concept and applied their own affable style of business, creating a network known as much for its family spirit as its commercial prowess.
From just two home-based consultants, the MTA brand has in almost 20 years evolved into one of the Australian travel industry’s great success stories.
Today, MTA home-based members number over 390, with the Gold Coast head office support team now exceeding 45 personnel.
Andrew McEvoy is a well-known face in the travel industry, having held management positions with both Tourism Australia and the South Australian Tourist Commission.
Most recently he was managing director, Life Media & Events at Fairfax Media, where he managed the new business portfolio, including events and content marketing.
He is currently the chairman of the SeaLink Travel Group, and is a member of the company’s remuneration and nomination committee.
McEvoy is also chairman of the Adelaide Riverbank Authority and has been awarded Life Membership of TTF Australia (Tourism and Transport Forum).