Your company has offices globally. Why open your Australian headquarters in your home town?
Newcastle is where we have built the expertise in it, finance, operations and product development over the years so it was the only choice.
What did you do after finishing Year 12?
After leaving school I went to university to do a commerce degree and after a break working at Newcastle steelworks to pay for the degree I left in year three without completing the course.
How did you come to found Scenic in 1986?
My father was involved in property development and after assisting with the redevelopment of Belmont Caravan Park and the Sundowner Hotel near Ipswich I was asked to "see what could be done" at the Riverside Gardens Motel in Warrnambool [in south-west coastal Victoria]. The hotel was empty at the time and a previous entertainer who had worked there advised they used to have many coach groups staying for extended periods. As our hotel was well out of town off the main road and didn’t have a liquor licence it seemed like the only opportunity so I packaged a tour that stayed six nights at the hotel touring the local sights and then sold it to a number of senior citizen and Probus groups initially in the Newcastle central coast region and then afterwards to Sydney and beyond.
Scenic operated in coach tourism nationally and then went global. What were the biggest challenges in growing?
Moving into new spheres of operation always has challenges. From currency to language to natural disasters etc. There are numerous challenges as you develop, not least finding the right people to assist you.
Why did you enter the cruise market in 2008 with luxury journeys via the Scenic Space-Ship?
We’d chartered ships for several seasons before and wanted to develop our own exclusive brand. We also knew that for the first time we’d have a product that would appeal equally to North American and British guests as it would Australians so it was a great growth opportunity.
How competitive is the cruise market and what sets Scenic apart?
The river cruise market is hugely competitive and for the consumer it is a very cluttered marketplace to navigate. What sets Scenic apart is not just the many premium inclusions guests can enjoy throughout their cruise including top shelf beverages, butler service, exclusive Scenic Enrich experiences and extensive onshore activities. But also the quality of our fleet, which we own and operate in Europe and South East Asia.
Last year a class action was launched against Scenic and another tour company in relation to cruises between 2013-14 amid flood conditions, with customers alleging the company breached consumer law by failing to cancel or delay the cruises. Has this incident affected your procedures?
We have introduced the Scenic river cruising guarantee - travel insurance aimed at protecting Scenic guests in the event of delays or cancellations. This new product is included automatically and at no extra cost to our river cruise customers and is a new layer of protection for guests from disturbances caused by weather, natural disasters, mechanical breakdowns or strikes.
What has been the toughest moment personally for you in running the business, and why?
Letting go. When you start the business as a one man operation from a desktop at home you find it very difficult to let go of many of the tasks you enjoyed doing. But the flip side is there are usually new greater challenges to take on which helps you let go of the old ones.
When you start the business as a one man operation from a desktop at home you find it very difficult to let go of many of the tasks you enjoyed doing.
What sort of research do you do to stay relevant?
Guest feedback is the best research. We ask all our guests on every cruise and tour for their feedback at the end of the journey with us and this is invaluable in helping us decide if we need to change anything or what they would like to see added to the itinerary in future years. They are the ones that experience what we do firsthand so we really do listen to what they have to say. And as we travel a great deal we ask ourselves - what do we like most and what would we like to see our guests experience.
What are your ambitions over the next five years?
Unfortunately that would be telling too much.
Your father Reg worked at length in the company until retiring. Are other family members involved?
Not at present, other than my niece who works during uni holidays in the Newcastle office.
Do you return to Newcastle from your Swiss base?
Unfortunately it’s maybe a dozen days a year and tends to be day visits to the office.
Who or what inspires you in business?
I've never been one to look at others for inspiration. But I do really admire those who have successful careers, don’t take themselves too seriously and still have time for family and friends – which is far more important than business.