Leading Australian Tour Operator Enters China Market

Australian Pacific Touring leverages ITB China to promote new itineraries for Chinese travellers

APT is very well known “down under” for its broad offering of travel products. Now the company is entering China, and ITB China is the gateway. We asked the company’s China Manager, Craig James, to tell us about APT’s background.


The APT (Australian Pacific Touring) story started back in 1927. There was a tram strike in Melbourne. Geoff McGeary’s father Bill had an old Bedford in the back yard and he put a few chairs in the back of the truck and started driving up and down the tram lines, because Melbourne was paralysed. But when the trams went back to work, the locals asked Bill to keep the service going. One bus route grew into two, three, four and five, and so on. In 1956, they realised there was more money in group travel, so they got rid of the bus routes, and bought some bigger coaches. In the 1960’s, the controversial musical, “Hair” was on in Sydney, and they started running weekend tours from Melbourne. From there, they stretched-out to New Zealand, the United States, in ‘91 we started doing Canada and Alaska. We now do somewhere upwards of 9,000 passengers to Canada and Alaska. In 2006, we built our first ship. Today we have 18 ships cruising in Europe, two ships in the Mekong, two in Myanmar, and we now offer travel to every continent in the world.

So, you’re Australia’s biggest tour operator?

Yes, operating under a number of brands. The star is Captain’s Choice. So, if APT is five-star luxury, Captain’s Choice is six. Captain’s Choice does private ‘round the world jet tours. They were the original private jet operator. They first chartered a Qantas 767 back in 1992 and went around the world. That moved to Qantas 747s and now it’s a 50-seater 757 – still doing a variety of itineraries. They do Antarctic day trips – four hours down, four hours over the ice, and four hours back. I did it, and it was amazing.
Then we have “Travel Marvel”, which is our value three and four-star brand, and we have “Botanica” – specialising in garden tours – everything green. They go beyond the garden gate into private gardens you couldn’t normally get into.

How important is the Chinese market to you?

It’s the international market we are currently going after. Because we have such a broad range of products, we are not only doing European river cruising here, which we’ve had here for three years, we are starting to look at offering the Kimberly, and the luxury private jet, so we’ve had a lot of collateral translated into Mandarin, and also other different itineraries that have never been offered before in China, such as a seven-night eastern European circuit just for Chinese travellers.

What’s your take on ITB China?

We have been searching to get into the Chinese market for about three years, in a couple of different ways. In the first year, we did full charters out of China. Now, we have an allocation of cabins on each of our cruises for Chinese travellers. On board, we translate the menus and have Chinese guides. ITB is the number one show we are doing worldwide for the international market. It’s been recommended to us as the premium show. We have tried other shows here. But as the premium show, we could only really budget in an emerging market to do one, and this was billed to us to be the one to be at. Because not only does it establish your company to meet other tourism operators, the simple fact of being at ITB, because it is the premier show, is critical. We are a luxury operator. We are not cheap, but you get what you pay for. So, to be connected at that ITB level says “luxury upmarket”. There are a lot of other shows where we could go and spend a few hundred bucks, but it doesn’t give the same message that ITB does.

Craig James – APT China Manager (right) 
David Axiotis – ITB China General Manager

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