Newcastle Herald

Investing in experiences: Australians' love of travel drives renewed demand

Cruising through wine country on Portugal's Douro River.
Cruising through wine country on Portugal's Douro River.

This is branded content for APT.

Australians have always had a reputation as lovers of travel but that appetite has increased even more in the past year as the world reopened and pent-up demand was freed. Predictions are that the wanderlust spirit will continue to skyrocket in 2024.

In October alone more than 845,680 Australians departed on a short overseas trip, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' most recent figures. That was 40 per cent higher than the same time the previous year.

New Zealand continued to be the leading destination for Australians on an overseas sojourn, along with Indonesia, the United States, and Europe. More than half (53 per cent) said the reason for the trip was a holiday, the most popular motivation.

The quickly-increasing return to travel is a joyful time for David Cox, CEO of APT Travel Group, the Australian and still family-owned pioneering business that has been creating memorable travelling experiences tailored to Aussies for almost a century.

He said the company had used the time during the pandemic to focus on developing even more exciting ways for Australians to explore both the world and their own backyard.

A particular focus has been on continuing to grow APT's acclaimed luxury river boat cruises, part of a booming sector with the number of Australian's planning a cruise more than tripling since last year.

"We've been in the travel sector for the long-game, the 100 year game so we were preparing for when we came out of COVID and when travel demand returned," Mr Cox said.

"We've invested in our new camps in the Kimberley, we invested in a new ship for the Mekong, APT Serenity, and our new ship for Portugal's Douro River that launches this year. Plus we are investing in brand new APT ships for Europe, Amsterdam to Budapest, all designed for Australian tastes."

APT CEO David Cox aboard the company's new Mekong River ship Mekong Serenity launched last year. Picture supplied.
APT CEO David Cox aboard the company's new Mekong River ship Mekong Serenity launched last year. Picture supplied.

Family legacy and innovation

Innovation has been at the heart of APT since 1927 when a 24-year-old then mechanic Bill McGeary saw an opportunity, starting a bus service to ferry Melbourne commuters and then later day-trippers.

Under the leadership of Bill's entrepreneurial son Geoff since the mid- 1960's, APT is now a global travel empire, Australia's largest family-owned tour and travel company.

It's a long way from when it first started offering its first international tours in the 1970s. Having pioneered luxury group touring to regional and remote Australian destinations like the magical Kimberley, as well as the concept of "glamping", it led the way for group tours overseas and then into luxury river cruising.

"We've really been innovating and evolving throughout our history," said Mr Cox. "At the centre has been our focus on our customers and providing the unique experiences we knew Australians wanted.

"We want people to discover local cultures and we go out of our way to do that. At the same time we'll ensure the little things that make them feel relaxed and comfortable are available so they get the most out of their travel experience in a completely hassle-free way."

Love for river cruising

While Australians have long been amongst the greatest cruisers per head of population in the world, the demand has strengthened even more post pandemic.

New research from the Tourism and Transport Forum (TFF) revealed 26 per cent of 2000 Australians surveyed are planning to cruise in 2024, up from 7 per cent a year ago.

Mr Cox said the popularity of river cruising in particular was soaring and was a sector APT would continue to invest strongly in.

"The reason our river cruising is so popular, why people love it, is because they get on board and everything is all taken care of," he said.

"They unpack once and then just choose what they want to do. They have the freedom to go off and explore the ports on their own or in organised tours. Or they can just stay on the ships, relax and soak up the scenery in luxury."

Cruise the Mekong River in luxury aboard APT's Mekong Serenity.
Cruise the Mekong River in luxury aboard APT's Mekong Serenity.

APT's deep understanding of Australian travellers has influenced the kind of experiences and service that it offers its cruisers, says Mr Cox.

"There is a strong feeling at APT that we are Australian, that we are family owned and, while we're a global company, we're operating in a way that's underpinned by the fact that we know Australians with all their nuances - it's something that sets us apart.

"For example, we'll go and do a high-quality concert in a fantastic port of call like Vienna, but for an hour, not three hours, because we know that's what many of our guests prefer," he said.

"With our express city tours will show them the main points of interest but also the best cafe to have coffee at or the best local pub, or the best bakery so they can then go back and explore on their own, immerse themselves in local life. But then back on board there's Vegemite on the breakfast buffet. It's a home away from home."