Issues & Trends – Nov/Dec 2013

AOT headquarters opening brings Burnes, Hockey together again

A DECADE ago, when John Howard led a Coalition government that could see the point in having a Minister for Tourism, Joe Hockey was the man who filled that role.

And leading the vigorous dialogue that the tourism industry had with that government was Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) chairman Andrew Burnes.

It was a time when tourism was reeling from a succession of disasters – 9/11, SARS, the Ansett collapse, the Bali bombings – freely likened to the drought that was afflicting primary industry.
But unlike the rural sector, the tourism industry received negligible assistance in the 2003 Federal Budget.

In the wake of that Budget, at the opening of a memorable ATEC sym-posium in Perth, Burnes hit out at the lack of government support, telling delegates: “Tragically our most senior Federal politicians either don’t get it or don’t want to.”

The next day, like Daniel entering the lion’s den, Hockey arrived at the conference. He gave assurances that a White Paper on tourism would map out a 10 year future for the industry which he recognised was “doing it tough”.

His trump card was to arrange for Prime Minister Howard himself to address the ATEC delegates, assuring them that the Government would act on their concerns under the urgings of

Hockey “an extremely energetic, indefatigable campaigner for your industry”.

The result was that Burnes’ closing address to the symposium, in stark contrast to the stinging remarks he made at the opening, was fulsome in its praise of the Government.

Fast forward 10 years and Burnes and wife Cinzia, have built their business, AOT Group, into a powerhouse of Australian tourism. From its fledging start in Cairns in 1987 AOT now operates 14 offices around the world and has moved to a new head office in South Melbourne.

Hockey, meanwhile, in case you haven’t noticed, has risen to become Australia’s Federal Treasurer.

Appropriately, in view of past asso-ciations, it was he who performed the opening ceremony for AOT’s new global headquarters.

Hockey, pictured, right, with Andrew and Cinzia Burnes, paid tribute to AOT as “one of the great success stories of the Australian tourism industry”.


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