Wednesday, 13 June 2012

APT takes strategic stake in Noble Caledonia

MS Caledonian Sky, formerly Hebridean Spirit
Australian privately-owned travel company APT has strengthened its presence as a global destination travel company with the APT Group taking a strategic interest in the UK-based Noble Caledonia which operates luxury small ship cruising and land touring worldwide.

APT owner, Geoff McGeary announced the purchase today at a Sydney travel industry lunch marking the 85th anniversary of the family-owned business which is based in Cheltenham, a southeast suburb of Melbourne.

APT began in the early 1920s when Bill McGeary built a bus body onto a tray truck after a cable tram strike crippled the city of Melbourne. Today, the business continues to be managed by son Geoff, with the involvement of third generation Rob and Louise.

Noble Caledonia, formed in 1991, operates river cruises, expedition cruises, small ship cruises and land tours in 15 world regions, including Antarctica and the Arctic. With seven vessels hosting between 50 to 160 passengers. Noble Caledonia owns two vessels and operates the others on long-term charters. It markets its holidays across the northern hemisphere.

Mr McGeary said it would be “business as usual” for Noble Caledonia with APT’s significant shareholding.

The purchase price is undisclosed.

Mr McGeary said Noble Caledonia “fitted perfectly” with APT’s business platform – providing high quality, high comfort, small group, fully inclusive pricing and professionally escorted travel experiences, primarily for the discerning 50-plus market.

APT has already incorporated Noble Caledonia vessels in its 2013 Botanica garden tours, European river cruise program and its most recent Canada-Alaska brochure.

“APT has grown through strategic partnerships with operators who share similar values and are experts in their field,” he said. “We’ve done this successfully with Aboriginal communities for our Australian 4WD wilderness adventures and wilderness lodges, with river cruising in Europe and Vietnam, train travel across Russia and now with a cruise company that takes us into ocean waters.”

“This is giving us control over the product we deliver to agents and their clients. Whatever the holiday experience, we’re consistently delivering standards expected of our customers who we listen to intently,” he said. “Customers have driven the growth because they keep asking us for new APT experiences, insisting though we deliver the hallmark standards of discovery, comfort and service to which they have become accustomed.”

The two-way benefits of the partnership are the strengthening of Noble Caledonia’s Australian distribution and Noble Caledonia assisting APT’s UK distribution, Mr McGeary said.

“Noble Caledonia operates independently under the long term direction of London based Managing Director Andy Cochrane and we are pleased to be in partnership with the Swedish Salen family who have a long history in ship ownership and operation,” Mr McGeary said.

APT operates luxury-style escorted tours and cruising in Europe, Russia, Canada-Alaska, Vietnam-Cambodia, China, Africa, South America, Egypt-Jordan, New Zealand and Australia (Tasmania, Norfolk Island, Kimberley, Outback, Queensland and Northern Territory). It markets in Australasia, the UK and Europe and North America.

Mr McGeary said APT’s growth had been generated mainly by its presence in Europe river cruising, its entry to Vietnam and Cambodia, Africa, lodges in the Kimberley, continued strength in Canada & Alaska and a return to South America.

The Noble Caledonia shareholding follows a majority stake taken mid 2009 in UK-based Golden Eagle Luxury Trains Limited (formerly known as GW Travel), a leading operator of long distance luxury tours by private train. Its flagship train, the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, is Russia’s only private luxury train which has become synonymous with the world’s most iconic rail journey.

APT is also a co-owner with the experienced European river cruise company, AmaWaterways, a seven-year partnership that has seen APT emerge as the largest supplier of European river cruises in the Australian-New Zealand market, operating 10 of its own river ships (12 next year).

Mr McGeary only recently returned from hosting the first APT Club adventure in Africa and from inspecting the refurbished MS AmaKatarina river ship in Russia.