Set in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales about 200 kilometres north-west of Sydney, Bathurst is the oldest inland settlement in Australia and site of the country’s first gold rush. Today it’s still one of the state’s most vibrant regional centres, with education a driving force in the local economy.
It’s a sector Panorama Cruise & Travel director Greg Tucker knows intimately, having spent more than two decades as a teacher at a local Bathurst high school before moving into travel. Teaching, like travel, wasn’t something Greg set out to pursue, but it found him at just the right time.
“I left All Saints College in Bathurst, where I was a boarder, and headed to Wollongong to do a traineeship and work for Australian Iron and Steel in Port Kembla,” recalls Greg. “But I was a country boy, and while I loved the job I just couldn’t handle the city.
“Around 1975 I was flicking through the newspaper and I saw a job at my old school teaching engineering science. They took me on with no teaching qualifications because they were desperate for those type of teachers. I walked straight out of Australian Iron and Steel’s head office in Port Kembla into a school room in Bathurst.
“I was trained in the imperial system, and in the year that I switched I had the first Year 12 class come through having learned everything in metric, so it was me who ended up getting all the homework. But I found that I loved teaching and I loved the kids.”
As well as teaching engineering, Greg found himself involved in the school’s outdoor education program, which initially involved guiding bush walks. But the role evolved to the point where he was leading ski trips during school holidays and eventually organising bus trips all around Australia.
“I’d hire a driver, a cook and all the camping gear and we’d head off. In other words, I was organising group tours before I’d even realised it was a passion. I didn’t put two and two together until I got into the travel industry.”
It was April 1997 when he decided it was time for another career change.
“I decided I wanted to do something different as I moved towards retirement and Panorama Cruise & Travel was the first business I took to the accountant that he didn’t just laugh at.
“The guy I purchased the business from said he’d stay around and help me. He did, for a week, and then he was gone. I’d done the training to get my certificate, but I found that was really of no use. It was all about on-the-job training, and I was surrounded by a really good team who all stayed with me.”
One of them was Caroline Sage, who is still with the agency and is now an equal partner in the business.
Greg says he took over a strong business that had operated since the mid-1970s and been one of the earliest Harvey World Travel franchises. Unlike some regional cities, Bathurst has also enjoyed strong population growth and economic development. Nevertheless, the company has encountered some challenging times.
“A couple of years ago we had some staff do the wrong thing, and that nearly brought us undone. It wasn’t so much the money that went missing, it was the training of new staff and fixing up files when you’ve lost key staff overnight. It took us a good two years to get over that.”
Since then the business has “grown immensely”, reflecting what Greg believes is a general shift back to travel agencies by people who realise that the online DIY route is not all it’s cracked up to be.
That’s one of the reasons Greg has a positive outlook for the retail travel industry, so long as agents are willing to keep pace with change and selectively adopt technology that can help their businesses.
He also believes that regardless of how much the industry evolves, good agents can always build an unrivalled rapport with customers.
“One of my key things is that I like to employ people who are involved in the community – perhaps through sport or school – and people who reflect the community. For that reason I‘ve always liked to have a mix of staff in terms of age and gender. Our youngest is 21, our oldest is in her 60s and I always had at least two males.
“For me it’s always been about relationships and enjoying life – all the way along. And if a little bit of money comes out at the end that’s a bonus.”
Panorama Cruise & Travel director Greg Tucker