Geoff McGeary’s torch to burn brightly at APT

The man at the top of the pile for APT Travel Group, Geoff McGeary, has called time on his six-decade career leading one of the most successful travel brands in the country. ADAM BISHOP recently sat down with Geoff's two children, Rob and Lou, to find out what's next for APT now that they are both in the driver's seat.

When I asked Lou Tandy what helpful advice her dad relayed to her after assuming control of APT with her brother Rob McGeary, she joked, “don’t stuff it up”.

While the response was playful, it certainly gives one pause to ponder the enormous sense of duty that must escort the task of taking the reins of a successful company that has been under the watchful stewardship of one man for so long.

On a more serious note though, Tandy confided that it will be her father’s business ethos of always putting the customer first and planning for the long-term over the short-term that she will hold closest to her heart while helping to guide the APT business forward into the future.

Lamentably, the commercial landscape is littered with cautionary tales of family businesses going under when the torch is passed down the generations.

Sometimes this is brought on by misguided youthful ambition, and on other occasions in the cut and thrust of wanting to make their own bold mark, the core DNA of success is overlooked, or worse still, carelessly jettisoned.

However, those traps are highly unlikely to ensnare the next generation of the McGeary family, with Rob and Lou spending much of their childhoods and adult lives learning the family trade from the ground up under the astute tutelage of their father.

Tandy believes this was all part of a long-term succession plan devised by her dad to ensure APT would always be in safe hands, and also part of his ardent desire to avoid the sudden nature of his own ascension to the throne early on in life.

“For dad the passing of the baton was quite abrupt, when his father died my dad was just 16 and so he always had a vision of building and continuing a multigenerational business and was determined to pass the baton on very differently,” Tandy explained.

“And as such, he’s been preparing my brother and I since we were kids, from countless hotel inspections on our family holidays, road trips that were actually tour planning trips, merging holidays with work, and that’s just how it has always been – the business has been our life.

Travel was always in the blood for Rob and Lou.

“My brother and I feel incredibly privileged to have this opportunity to do something that we love in this great industry and as we take the baton of the business, we do so with more than 47 years of directorship between us.”

Rob McGeary agrees that taking over APT has been a “life-long transition”.

“We grew up with travel around the dinner table,” McGeary recalled.

“Either dad wasn’t there because he was busy in Alice Springs, Los Angeles or London working on the business, or when he was there, we would be talking about how a coach is stuck in Cairns because of a cyclone – so the business of travel was happening around us all the time.

“I started in the business straight from school at the age of 18 and worked in Sydney selling our day tours, and from there I moved to driving and guiding which put me in the front line delivering the product.

“This is where I learned…that I was responsible for travellers’ once-in-a-lifetime impression of a destination, this was their time and I was responsible for their impression of somewhere like Uluru and that has been a responsibility that I have never taken lightly.

“You see other travel brands at the moment battling with brand identity issues and customer relation issues and if you’re out there in the coalface in front of the customer it would never get to those levels.”

But it has been far from all smooth sailing for APT, as Tandy can attest to, the business has made its fair share of mistakes over the years, however, the core strength and resolve of the company is something she believes has allowed it to weather the storm of the recent pandemic – even declaring the business has emerged stronger from the crisis as a result.

“The COVID years were difficult for all of us in the industry – particularly in Australia – lots of hard decisions had to be made and as a business we really put our heads down and focused on our strengths,” Tandy said.

“It just goes to show how committed we are to the industry and innovation, and now that Australians are once again really hungry to travel, we are very excited to talk about those developments.”

One of the major pillars of that aforementioned innovation has been the hard work behind the scenes to create something that Lou and Rob both hinted would be unique in the cruise space.

Among the exciting developments has been the launch of the custom-designed Mekong Serenity in September this year, sailing itineraries in Vietnam and Cambodia.

The very stylish Mekong Serenity.

The 44-suite luxury vessel has been designed to take premium river sailing to a whole new level through a wide and varied gourmet dining experience, elegant floor-to-ceiling windows, butler services, and bespoke wellness offerings, to name just a few of the bells and whistles.

Another significant project is the upcoming MS Estrela, which is due to set sail on the Duro in Portugal next year.

The small 120-passenger ship has been purpose-built with Australian guests in mind, offering dining experiences that cater to the palate of Aussies through a unique blend of Portuguese, Mediterranean and international flavours, while each stateroom and suite boasts generous living space, including an en suite bathroom, as well as personal climate control, flatscreen TVs and complimentary wi-fi.

While recent developments for APT in the cruise space have certainly been eye-catching, one gets the sense the best is yet to come, with Tandy hailing two new APT ships due in 2025, revealed exclusively by Travel Daily back in August, as likely to “redefine luxury river cruising” as we currently know it.

Many industry observers may well think it makes sense for cruise innovation to be at the forefront of APT’s future plans as well, having pioneered river cruises in Europe for Australian travellers in the mid 2000s.

Previously the backbone of APT’s strategy in Europe was fostered through a long-standing partnership with AmaWaterways, however earlier in the year the Aussie company decided to walk away from the charter collaboration to pursue a more hands-on approach to ship design on the continent.

Reflecting on the move, Rob McGeary said that while the partnership had been very successful for close to 20 years, the maturing cruise market in Australia meant the time was right to make the key strategic change.

“The AmaWaterways product is designed for the American market and they deliver an excellent product for that market and what we now want to be able to do is deliver something that better suits our customers,” he said.

“We have a lot of respect for Rudy, Kristin and the Murphy family and our history goes back a long way.

“We still have an equity stake in AmaWaterways and we don’t see that changing.”

While many of the details of APT’s 2025 vessels are still under wraps, Tandy provided a few exciting clues about what is to come.

“We are extremely excited by them,” she enthused.

“One of the things that we really wanted to focus on was how do we build a ship purely with an Australian customer in mind, asking ourselves ‘what does that look like’ and ‘how do we tailor the ships’.

“We know Australian travellers as well as anyone and we know an awful lot about river cruising, so one of the first things we did was set Australian design firm Hecker Guthrie the task of creating a ship that is both contemporary and timeless for our guests, while also melding elegant European warmth alongside unpretentious Australian ease.

“For example, we know that when Australians do a river cruise they travel for two weeks, not one week like travellers from the Northern Hemisphere, so we needed to design these ships for a two-week experience.

“We also know Australians love their outdoor spaces and enjoy the outdoors, so we really had to think about how we could maximise those traits on the ships and create those experiences.”

Moving forward, Rob McGreary insists that what travellers and the trade will notice about APT won’t be any seismic changes but rather a continued investment in the company’s core product through the eyes of a younger generation.

“There won’t be fundamental changes,” he explained.

“I’ve sat on the board since the 1990s and Lou has been on the board since the 2000s, so we’ve both had instrumental roles in leading the business at both management and director levels.

“Where there will be changes is in respect to younger customers coming through, and Lou and I are looking through those eyes and we’re of that ilk…so that’s probably what you’ll see the most and that sensitivity to customers who are in that 55-plus category.”

Further investments to be actioned under the new regime moving forward will include technology, both customer-facing and behind-the-scenes administration, as well as more upgrades to its resort properties in the Kimberley, and enhanced marketing strategies through its recently bolstered in-house team, to name just a few of the forward-facing initiatives.

But while the evolution of its successful formula is on the cards, one area that Rob and Lou both stressed would never change is APT’s ongoing commitment to travel agents.

“There have been lots of things that are evolving in our business and as Rob has said, we have generational change, innovation, changes across products and so on, but something that is absolutely not changing is our support of travel agents,” Tandy emphasised.

“We’ve been founding and preferred partners with every major travel agency group for over five decades and we have one of the largest sales teams in Australia with 18 BDMs on the road, so our support for the travel agency industry is stronger than ever.

“This year we also introduced a new VIP program for our agents so we could put more reward and recognition directly back into the travel agents themselves and to the stores that are supporting APT.

“Another area of focus has been our famil program which is getting really great feedback and with so many new products launching, such as our new ships, we will want to show the industry what these experiences are all about.”

The guiding light provided by Geoff McGeary for decades at APT certainly looks likely to burn brightly for decades to come under the new management of Rob and Lou, and while both have reaffirmed the DNA of the business will stay the same, the future is also unlikely to be ruled by a dominant circumspect prescription either.

An early APT bus tour of Uluru.

“Part of the culture of the business will be to have a go and try things,” Tandy predicted.

“That is part of the way our father lived, and life is for living, to get out there, seek to improve and if there are mistakes, learn from them and do better next time.”






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