When and why did you join the industry?
My travel industry career began by accident. In 1992 China opened the door to tourism slightly and bicycle themed trips were allowed. As a keen cyclist this was perfect, so my wife, Christine Pearson, and I organised for the first group of Australians to cycle in China, back in 1982. Guests told their friends what a fantastic trip it was and soon we had a second, then third group. Now 33 years later we organise travel to every continent from our office in Canberra.
What do you like most about your job?
The best thing is when guests return and tell you how well their trip went. This is really satisfying as it is a mark of satisfaction, approval and does wonders for the self esteem (for them as well as us). We always want our clients to have a ‘perfect’ trip.
What’s one of the biggest achievements of your career so far?
There is no one event or meeting. It’s not a celebrity thing, or a mountain top view, or being ‘first’ at something. The biggest achievement is sustaining and growing a business, and keeping my wonderful wife beside me through these 33 years of industry and personal generational change and challenge from ever increasing directions.
What’s the best advice ever given to you and who gave it?
I’ve had a fair bit of off beat and bad advice. I’ve had predators ‘advise’ me. I’ve had people tell me what I already knew. And I’ve made my own decisions and set my own code of ethics. So, while it sounds arrogant, I think the best advice in general terms has been my own considered thinking based on my ethics.
Having said that, I have many, many people who support me should a dilemma arise.
Who do you admire and see as a role model in the industry?
There are many entertaining characters out there who are on the stage all the time. There are pluggers who get the job done well and shy from the limelight. The ones I admire are those who build a sustainable business, keep their friends and develop a good life balance. There is one man, amongst many individuals, who I respect for this. I won’t identify him, of course.
What can people expect from your company and what sets it apart from the rest?
I’d like to think we offer perfection in travel planning and execution, but that really is impossible. ‘10’ can never be achieved as that leaves no room for improvement and I believe that should be a fundamental goal – to improve.
Because we offer individual itinerary planning our function is specialised thus setting us apart from many, but not all. We have excellent destination knowledge, we are worldwide with our programs, we aim to provide value, not only measured by price but security, quality and an understanding of our clients expectations. We are not unique in this way, but we are certainly different to the majority of retail agents and 100% of online vendors of travel.
What destinations are on your travel bucket list?
Iran and North Korea, two places still unaffected by globalised and homogenised travel.
What’s a memorable travel experience you’ve had (good or bad)?
Travelling through Ethiopia. We’ve ‘pioneered’ many destinations in our earlier years and a recent visit to Ethiopia reminded me of these earlier ventures and highlighted the wondrous pleasure in being in a place so different to our own. Ethiopia is truly a stunning living museum with fantastic nature and highly visible ancient ways.
I can’t recall ‘bad’ experiences as such – not because I’ve eliminated them from my memory but more because I really haven’t had to endure a ‘bad’ experience. Uncomfortable, yes, such as stuck in a blizzard while cycling across Tibet, or having rats eat my stuff which I’d ‘safely’ stored next to my head while sleeping, and countless less-than-satisfactory toilet facilities or waiting for a cancelled flight for three days in Bangladesh. But nothing ‘bad’.
What are three things you always take with you when travelling?
Apart from the obvious (medication, passport, spare credit card etc), three things are: name cards, a set of good clothes, and a photo of my son.
Name someone famous you’d like to travel with and a destination you’d like to go with them.
I wouldn’t mind sharing a plane and travel with Prince Charles. I think our sense of humour and idealistic dreams would match. I’m sure he’d be able to adapt to my travel budget and if things got tight he has the connections to get us out of a problem. A road trip in some remote mountainous region such as Patagonia would be good. He’d have to drive.
What direction do you see the industry heading in over the next five to ten years?
I’d say in five years online will dominate but In 10 years there will be a swing back to retail agents, especially boutique set-ups catering to the hipsters, who are now earning more and have less time due to work loads, and wish to deal with the ‘cool’ travel planner located in some graffiti decorated lane way who also has a coffee shop, paleo kitchen, e magazines, and video connection via hand-held devices.