APT, one of Australia’s most enduring luxury cruise and travel brands, is planning some changes to update its river fleet and tours.

The traditional piano man will give way to local artists and authentic cultural experiences. And it is tapping into the environmental, social, responsibility and wellness trends, with hosts aboard many of its vessels and Zen Wellness Studios, which feature stretching, cardio and core strengthening.

It’s a strategy that goes against the current trend in the travel industry – what APT CEO Steve Reynolds calls “The disruptors”, who offer cheap holidays in Asia that devalue the destination.

“They devalue the destination by teaching the consumer that you can have 10 nights in Asia with flights for $1,000. It’s not sustainable.

“Fortunately, we’re insulated. Our customers know you can’t have an APT experience for 10 nights at $1,000. But it doesn’t do the destination any favours. It becomes very trashy.”

APT has been at the heart of Australian travel for more than 90 years. And its fleet of small, ships and river cruisers pioneered Australia’s love affair with cruise.

So its changes are subtle – but in keeping with the times.

Its partnership with AmaWaterways means it will benefit from a fleet renewal, including three new vessels next year. Among them is the AmaMagna, the biggest river ship which offers more variety and larger spaces.

With more than 25 years’ experience in travel, Steve exudes APT’s signature style: fastidious attention to detail, but relaxed and laid back.

In the words of the advertising song: “It’s got to be perfect…”

APT may be a luxury operator – but it is a company that truly reflects the classic Aussie view of five star travel.

“Australians are very unpretentious,” says Steve, talking at APT’s Sydney showcase in the Westin Hotel. “Australians are very comfortable travelling in luxury with other Australians. Because they don’t feel that they are unworthy of travelling in that style.

“Austrians are very egalitarian, comfortable and very easy to get along with whatever the style of travel.”

So it might be shorts at lunch and smart casual in the evening. But it will always be chic, stylish and very APT Australian.

Steve believes super has put Australian travellers into the luxury league. “You have a much larger market of customers in the luxury space because of the success of superannuation in this country.”

Steve sees his job as “taking away that fear and risk and provide for you the most comfortable and economic way of visiting a destination.”

APT takes its guests to some incredible places. And fulfils its promise of turning out journeys that are “unforgettable”.

There are staples like Europe and Canada. But now, there are many more, from luxury expedition and luxury ocean small ships to classic coach tours, small group discovery and tailor made journeys in Africa and South America.

“Putting together an itinerary is like making a meal,” says Steve. “If I was a chef, I can put together all of the ingredients. But it’s understanding the balance that will make the meal really excellent or just a bunch of ingredients.”

APT uses almost every mode of transport.

In India, the company uses The Deccan Odyssey, one of the world’s leading luxury trains. “You have your meals aboard the train, you sleep on the train and your travel at night. You unpack only once.”

In Europe, it’s a fleet of luxury river ships, small ships and coaches. In Asia, it’s luxury vessels. In Australia, its coaches, small group tours and ships.

And in every corner of the globe, there’s a unique experience.

Steve explains how he personally found a direct descendant of the mogul who built the Taj Mahal in India. He had jewels worth $8 million dollars under his counter. He is now on APT’s itinerary – and his jewels are on display for passengers as a classic exclusive experience.

Steve says APT is always looking at new products to suit the brand’s core customer base of unashamed superannuated retirees. But that doesn’t mean the APT experience is preserved in aspic. Far from it. Already, there are big changes planned.

“The entertainment on board will change completely next year,” Steve reveals. “Rather than having a single entertainer on a cruise, we’ll have local entertainers on board for segments of the cruise giving a much more diverse entertainment offering.”

APT has had a unique partnership with Luke Nguyen. “Our partnership with Luke has been tremendously successful. He has very similar values to APT – he is great at what he does, but doesn’t take himself too seriously.”

APT is a unique collection of brands. Botanica is a specialist cruise company for those who love to visit the great gardens of the world. But, according to Steve, the brand also lends itself to music and art.

APT is expanding into Croatia, the hot destination of Europe. The launch of a new luxury, 36-passenger ship, MV Queen Eleganza, has already sold out for next year.

Robert McGeary, director of APT Travel, told Cruise Passenger: “There has been a strong growth in coastal cruising, especially to the Balkans, Black Sea and Croatia. With coastal cruising it’s all about the destinations,”

Eleganza will dock overnight in every port, allowing guests to fully immerse themselves in the local culture and lifestyle.

Beautifully crafted for the Croatian coast, Eleganza has only 18 cabins. It offers a variety of cruises along the Adriatic coast including a nine-day voyage from Zagreb to Dubrovnik and a 15-day tour from Vienna to Dubrovnik with an eight night cruise on the Eleganza.

There has been growth in bookings for Finland, Norway and the Northern Lights, Rob said.

More Australians are also going to Russia and taking river cruises in Asia and Europe, he added.

“Our core market is 55 years of age who are semi-retired and their children have left home. They are healthy and want to travel and they trust APT to give them a wonderful holiday experience. Our cruises are designed for Australians who like all-inclusive itineraries.

“More than 80 per cent of our customers are Australians and New Zealanders and up to 80 per cent of our business comes from travel agents,” he said.

The next big thing for APT?

Steve believes it is social and environmental responsibility – another example of the company’s response to a changing group of people moving into its core demographic.
He believes the Kimberley is achieving harmony between its clients and the local people who help the destination thrive.

“The best example is the Imintji community. We lease the Bell Gorge Wilderness Lodge in the King Leopold Ranges of WA. They live on the land adjacent to our lodge and our partnership is one of the most successful.

“Our environmental footprint is relatively low. We use solar panels and recycle a lot of food and turn it into fertiliser.

“The money we pay in the lease has allowed them to build their own site. And the elder is an artist who sells her art to our clients. So the money is being reinvested in the community and is encouraging the community to become self-sufficient.

“For me the greatest metric is the level of education. And when you see truancy drop, you can see that the community values education. Everybody benefits and it’s mutually rewarding.

“I see this as the long-term innovation is around social and environmental responsibility.”

The story allows Steve to return to his theme about the disruptors – the agencies using heavy press coverage for huge discounts.

They are, he says, hurting the chances that local communities can benefit from tourism.

“Unfortunately, the things we’ve been talking about – partnership with the community and social responsibility – can’t happen.

“You can’t pillage a destination for short term gain. You have a responsibility as a tourism operator to maintain the destination for future generations to come. And you can’t do that at $1,000 for 10 nights.”