The APT Story – a Calling to Travel
In unprecedented times family means more than ever. Here, Bill’s son Geoff and his children Robert and Louise recall the APT family’s early years and look to what comes next. A timely reminder of strength in adversity and a passion for travel, guest satisfaction and innovation. Founding principles on which APT was built and evolved to become the APT Travel Group.
APT founder Bill McGeary was driven to succeed. No doubt about it. When trams went on strike in Melbourne in 1927, he transformed a truck into a means of public transport, starting a bus business that would go on to become one of the country’s most successful travel companies.
Of course, when his father first took those bus passengers over 90 years ago, Geoff McGeary wasn’t yet born. But he will never forget the day he inherited the fleet of five vehicles. “When I came into the business I was only 19,” Geoff recalls. “By then, Dad had Parkinson’s disease and was deteriorating fairly quickly. I wrote to the transport authorities saying that my father was ill and that the only way we could carry on was if I could get an underage driving licence. You had to be 21 to drive a bus at that time.”
Geoff got his licence and, in no time, was driving groups to the country for picnics. While his guests enjoyed themselves, Geoff used the time to work: the back of the bus became his office. There he would dream up tour itineraries. “I was reading maps and looking at articles in magazines,” he recalls.
When a young girl named Anne appeared on the scene, she not only caught Geoff’s eye, but also his travel bug. Their courtship would be spent coming up with interesting ideas and itineraries for the fledgling company.
It was clear from the outset that Geoff shared his father’s get-up-and-go. “I needed vehicles that were of a higher standard than the ones we had and I got this idea that it would be great if the buses had restrooms,” Geoff explains. “So one of the first vehicles I had built included a restroom and I promoted this ‘exclusive’.”
The innovations didn’t stop there. “We introduced air-conditioning for tours in hot areas,” Geoff says. “A lot of people wanted to go to the Outback, which was a long way of course – it just made sense to have air-conditioning.”
There were new ideas about food, too. Rather than prepare dishes roadside, Geoff arranged for guests to dine at restaurants and hotels. “I remember going into the Birdsville pub. There was a sign behind the bar that said something like, ‘Seven-course meals for $15.’ Thinking that was exceptional value for our guests, I asked the barman what that entailed. ‘Oh that’s one six-pack and a pie,’ he replied. I still laugh about that now.”
Travel was now in the McGeary blood. Robert recalls that growing up, “the dinner conversation was never about football. It was all about a new destination that we were exploring or a coach that was bogged in.”
Louise and her father smile at the memory. “Because a lot of roads were unmade back then, they would turn into a quagmire,” Geoff says. “Sometimes we’d get passengers to help push the coach out of the bog. I remember one time we couldn’t go forward as the road was closed. We couldn’t go back because it was closed behind us. We ended up organising helicopters to drop supplies as we were running out of food.”
“Growing up we were lucky to always travel widely,” Louise says. “In saying that, Mum did have a fear of flying.” This could explain perhaps why, under the new name of APT, the business expanded into river cruises then small ships.
Now that Geoff and Anne are the proud grandparents of six, the McGeary family business will, down the track, include a fourth generation. “I think my parents fostered in us a sense of curiosity for the world. And I enjoy passing on that same sense of discovery to my children,” Louise says.
Geoff McGeary is hardly winding down and is very much part of the company’s innovative approach to travel. Up next is the roll-out of APT’s new domestic product range including Luxury Short Breaks as well as APT’s Private Air Tours program. In the Kimberley, a $3.1 million upgrade to APT’s exclusive Bell Gorge Wilderness Lodge has been successfully completed and we look forward to welcoming guests back to this wonderful wilderness experience.