Going It Alone…
Australia – Re-elected Chairman of Gold Coast Tourism for fourth (and final) term. Asked by a Brisbane based technology firm to provide an International Marketing Strategy for a mechanized car parking system they had designed and patented.
Began discussions with friends in the property development industry to seek reactions and opinions – one happened to be a Czech architect who (I discovered later) was planning a return to his home country to try and retrieve family property seized by the socialist regime in 1960.
Late May – Czech architect called from Prague – he had learned that the World Bank syndicates were providing transitional funding to certain munitions manufacturing companies for the purchase of ‘peaceful’ technologies. These companies were also going through the ‘privatisation’ process (from prior State ownership). He had identified two potential partners, one in Bohemia and one in Eastern Slovakia – and he could arrange presentation meetings with senior management of both…
Czechoslovakia – June – I met Radovan (architect) in Prague and we spent a few days in his old family home in Karlovy Vary, while he briefed me on the two companies we were to meet with – and the political conditions emerging in the country. We then travelled East – further East than I had ever ventured in Europe.
Snina, the factory town home of Vihorlat, is at the base of the Carpathian Mountains and just 7km West of the Ukrainian border. Our meetings with their Engineering and Commercial Directors were very positive and I left them three days later with an invitation to visit us in Brisbane to complete ‘due diligence.’
The two Vihorlat Directors spent a week on the Gold Coast and Brisbane in early August – a letter of intent was signed, and I travelled back to Snina in early September for the official signing and financial settlement. There were two further visits that year… and it was a 3 day commute, each way!
Brisbane to Singapore, 7 hours, and then overnight because the connecting flight to Prague departed 20 minutes before our arrival time. Singapore to Prague, 12 hours – but arriving at 5:30 am, I had 11 hours to kill waiting for the Eastern connection to depart at 5:00 pm. Prague to Bratislava and on to Poprad only took 3 hours, but then there was a 5 hour drive down through the Tatrasky Mountains to Snina, and the Vihorlat Hotel.
Part of the deal with Vihorlat was that I would recruit and train their sales team. 19,000 employees and no sales team! Under the old Central Planning system it wasn’t necessary – the Russian Generals just kept arriving with their order books. I met several of them… We all stayed in the same hotel – and shared the same large table at meal times.
Sales trips to Bratislava and Vienna, and spent 4 days at the International Trade Fair in Brno. Vihorlat asked me to present a paper on their behalf at the United Nations (UNIDO) Conference in Prague. I’m no stranger to public speaking, but that was different!
Australia – It might have been easier perhaps to stay longer (and travel less) but, during that last quarter of 1991, I still had responsibilities at home… I was a director of 2 public companies, and needed to return for board meetings. My wife had a few words to say on that subject too!
Australia – JB started school at TSS – and in April I finally stepped down as Chairman of Gold Coast Tourism. Four terms was maximum allowable under the constitution, but somehow my 4 terms had covered 6 years – and that was enough!
Czechoslovakia – Several trips to Snina – first problems with both patent and cost projections began to appear, but Vihorlat engineers solved both – and registered their own patents. Full size working prototype and video completed. Sales team recruited from a group of English speakers who learned the language from (embargoed) BBC Home Service! Sales trips to Bratislava, Vienna, Rome, Paris – used tourism industry for marketing leads.
Jersey, Channel Islands – Anthea brought the children for a family holiday and I joined them from Snina. First approach from AMP Shopping Centres, wanting a marketing strategy to place Pacific Fair (Gold Coast) into Australia’s inbound tourism market.
Wrote the initial strategy document in a hunting dacha in Eastern Slovakia. I returned to Oz for discussions with AMP.
Australia – Returned in June, signed contract and moved into Pacific Fair. Brief was simple – “Get Pacific Fair into international tourist itineraries” or – develop a new theme park – a theme park full of up-market shops… Attended ATE (Australian Tourism Exchange) in Melbourne – seeking opinions from Japanese and Asian tour wholesalers, and began recruiting a team.
Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore – Two (3 and 4 week) visits to all major tour wholesalers – seeking opinions and needs within Australia’s shopping environment.
The Group Tour Lounge concept began to emerge – and plans developed. Plans were presented on the second visit.
Australia – Opened our first Group Tour Lounge (Capacity 50) in October and began marketing to Inbound Tour Operators in Sydney and Melbourne.
Meeting in late December – interested in buying back Gold Coast Colour Productions?
Australia – AMP Pacific Fair. Project was being very well received by tour wholesalers and traffic was building fast. Formed a new company to manage the strategy, and developed new software to handle the dispersal of cash flow and commissions between retailers and tour wholesalers.
The commission debate raged – and I was (I still am) called to make public presentations on the subject. When does a commission become a kickback? – and Australia’s naivety on the subject. We paid commissions – openly – to the tour wholesalers – not tour leaders! But there was more to it than that!
Czechoslovakia – Vihorlat called me back for one last week with their sales team, and a few weeks later the Brisbane based purported owner of the technology arrived in Snina with an armed guard – to contest ownership of the prototype! Don’t think it worried Vihorlat too much…
Australia – Second visit from my old partner in Gold Coast Colour Productions – 2nd offer to buy back – figures indicated serious trouble – looked at several rescue options – but finally declined. Several trips around inbound tour operators in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Cairns – ATE and ITOA in Sydney.
Japan and Asia – Between July and November, I spent a total of 17 weeks ‘on the road’… 4 trips to Singapore, 3 to Malaysia, 3 to Bangkok, 4 to Japan, 3 to Taipei, 2 to Korea and 4 to Hong Kong. The results were immediate.
Highlights of the Year? First ever dose of food poisoning – I was blessed with a cast-iron constitution – can eat anything – anywhere – but this little lot was caught in Bangkok – and I was hospitalised in Tokyo – 5 days – not fun. Then there was a cross-wind landing in Seoul… Watson and I wound up clinging to each other – does that indicate fear?
at the JATA (Japan Association of Travel Agents) Congress in Tokyo – in November – we had been searching for each other for 26 years. 5,000 international delegates, sitting through a highly formal opening ceremony. Those of us who had done it all before, several times – were dead bored. I was reading the delegates list… and one name leaped off it.
KEITH de BELLEFEUILLE PERCY, Canada. He was sitting in the row, right in front of me…
A very noisy reunion which lasted a week – and ultimately lead to the creation of this website.
Australia – AMP Pacific Fair. We opened our second Group Tour Lounge (Capacity increased to 200) in April. Anthea and I separated, we tried to do it nicely, I’m writing this 16 years later, and we’re still friends. Carla was doing well at school and JB was settling in to Prep – I spent as much time (during the separation) as I could with them – but suspect it wasn’t enough…
A busy year… spent 39 weeks ‘in market’, in Japan and Asia, and the domestic travel schedule was also hectic. 7 trips to Sydney (industry conferences and sales calls), 2 to Melbourne, and 1 each to Canberra, Cairns and Adelaide – where I chaired the shopping segment of the ATIA conference.
Japan and Asia – a total of 39 weeks… 3 trips to Singapore, 2 to Malaysia, 2 to Bangkok, 2 to Japan (but this time including Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sendai and Sapporo), 2 to Taipei and Taichung, 1 to Korea, 1 to Jakarta and 5 to Hong Kong. Late in the year there was also a visit to Auckland to talk to another shopping centre group. The results were even stronger than the previous year, and the tourism industry was showing interest in similar shopping experiences in other Australian cities.
Australia – AMP Pacific Fair – It’s difficult to make this interesting for you – a year pretty much the same as the one before… The emphasis was changing – slowly at first – tour wholesalers were requesting wider shopping centre coverage, and this couldn’t be achieved from within the AMP stable of 17 properties. AMP, at first, accepted the fact that only 4 of their properties fitted the required profile – so we commenced discussions with other property owners in all Australian cities.
Some shopping centres, observing the success of our Pacific Fair project, took the view that all they needed was to build a Group Tour Lounge – and tourists would flock to them. At least three such operations started – and failed – and then the property owners approached us.
Domestic travel schedule was heavy – with 15 trips to Sydney, 7 to Melbourne, 2 to Adelaide and Perth and 3 to Cairns.
Japan and Asia – a quieter year, the tour wholesalers accepted that our concentration was on the development of the infrastructure they had requested. 1 trip to Japan, 1 to Auckland, 3 to Singapore, 3 to Kuala Lumpur, 2 to Jakarta, 2 to Bangkok and 3 to Hong Kong.
Australia – the year ended on a negative. AMP decided that they wanted exclusivity – and if that wasn’t possible they would not renew the contract for Pacific Fair – they would ‘go it alone’… We had been invited to discussions with Robina Town Centre (earlier in the year) but had told them we were ‘unavailable.’ Our tourism wholesalers expected a quality shopping experience on the Gold Coast, and we had very few weeks to find a replacement solution. Robina joined us.
AMP Pacific Fair might have succeeded – they were certainly ‘on the tourism map,’ but they made the fatal decision to strip off the commission component…
Australia – Tourism Shopping Australia – We moved our operational base from Pacific Fair on the Gold Coast to Double Bay in Sydney – nice for some! I continued to run the marketing activities from the Gold Coast and an apartment in Hong Kong. We commenced our new ‘extended’ strategy with 7 shopping centres around Australia – and 3 more joined us during the year. The Australian Tourist Commission (ATC) came to our assistance with infrastructural support, and encouraged the State Tourism Authorities to do the same.
Our domestic travel schedule was just as intense as 1995 – with the added time factor of client briefings and workshops, where we had to educate retailers and property owners into the structure and functions of the tourism industry. A Messianic task!
Japan and Asia – only slightly less than 1994 – this year TABS (Travel Australia & Britain Show) was in Manilla – and the Philippines was becoming an important target market.
Highlight – JB won his first Cross Country race – and I was there to see it.
Our domestic travel schedule was slightly less frantic and I managed to take some time out ‘in market’ for a couple of fishing trips. Both in the Cairns region – one (with JB) on the Barron River with guide George White – and one on Tinaroo Dam with Jack Leighton. I got to spend some time with the kids; Carla was ‘hard at it’ in Year 11, and JB was beginning to emerge as a serious young athlete. He was selected for the State Junior Schools Cross Country Championships, and in the Composite Relay event, he had a brilliant run – brought his team from 6th to 2nd.
Japan and Asia – similar to 1995’s schedule – but with TABS in Bali. Late in the year, in Hong Kong, an old friend decided to marry – and asked me to be his Best Man – my flight was cancelled at the last minute – the only alternative was due to land at Kai Tak just 45 minutes before the wedding. The Best Man changed in the Vicker’s vestry – in St John’s Cathedral!
At the end of the year, the river front town house next door to Anthea’s came on the market – we decided to sell the old family home and move closer to the kids – I commissioned a photographer to provide the kids some memories…
Australia – Tourism Shopping Australia – a year of re-structuring… In January my business partner (C had been with me since the early days of the Pacific Fair project) announced that she wanted to leave at the end of the year. An initial shock, but this reality, plus Carla’s announcement that she had been accepted for a Rotary Exchange year in Germany, only served to galvanise my own thinking… I really did want to spend more time with the children – before they weren’t children any more.
The ATC – and the State Tourism Authorities (STAs) – wanted the strategy to continue. Shopping had been established as a critical component in destination selection – and we had begun these discussions the year before. We needed to ensure that the strategy would continue – while we were freed up a little – to get our individual lives back… the ATC lead planning discussions and their support was appreciated. Our domestic travel schedule was adjusted to include these meetings – on top of last year’s level of activity.
Japan and Asia – marketing activities continued at last year’s level – and the tour wholesaler community seemed receptive to what we and the ATC were presenting as ‘A Market Segment Development Strategy.’
Australia – Year ended on a high note, we successfully handed the strategy over to ATC – and C left to get married. I had been invited as a guest on a game fishing boat, and caught my first marlin – the fish survived – but I was totally hooked! A new passion – and I managed to squeeze a second week on the same boat – out of Pt. Douglas. Caught my second marlin and a 750lb bronze whaler shark.
JB won the TSS Cross Country and also won the CIC Cross Country (Combined Schools) – and Carla graduated from St. Hildas as Best All Round Girl in Senior School.
The house was sold and I moved into my new town house on the Nerang River – anxious to start my new job as trainee father…
Australia – Tourism Shopping Australia – a wonderful change of pace – still some committments for the shopping project (writing the strategy documents) – but my time was my own! New office overlooking the river – and less than a dozen flights scheduled for the year… bliss! The kids were right next door – and drifted between both houses. Carla left for Germany in February, and I didn’t handle that well… “Don’t put a guilt trip on me Dad – YOU’ve been leaving ME ever since I was little…” Ouch! Said without malice – but I knew it was true… Took a couple of game fishing trips (and caught a few marlin) – but on one trip, 30 miles off shore, I wrote her a letter… Half way through the year Anthea and JB visited her in Hannover – I wanted to go, but knew it wasn’t what SHE needed…
Spent some time with a friend who owned Australia’s largest Japanese Weddings business – exploring ways of working together. Huge potential for growth into other markets (Eastern Europe – for one) but our management styles were very different – would need to be a JV perhaps. Discussions continued – through 2001. Was also called back by AMP and the Retailers Association of Queensland – to present Expert Witness for them at Trading Hours Inquiries in Brisbane and Cairns.
Australia – most of the year was spent playing catch-up father with JB… we played golf together – early in the year I had to show him the difference between a cricket grip and a golf grip – by the end of the year he was beating me. He won the TSS golf trophy – with a net 61! He won the TSS Cross Country Championships, and was selected to represent South Coast Cricket in Cairns at the National Championships. I was there for almost all of it.
At the end of the year, my old friend, Mike Hambley died in Perth. Mike had been the Director of the ATC in Tokyo for many years and those of us active in the Japanese market in those early days owed much to “Shambles.” We buried him on the Gold Coast.
Australia – Tourism Shopping Australia & Conference and Incentive Centre – Carla returned from Germany in January, and I managed to surprise her at Changi Airport and spend a wonderful day with her in Singapore. Took JB’s cricket coach for his first gamefishing trip – caught 4 marlin, a wahoo and a hammerhead shark.
Skal Club lunch in February, long discussion with an old colleague – then lunch on next two days… We decided to launch the Conference & Incentive Centre – a market research database targeted at the MICE market (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions) – dry presentations to a few industry leaders in March – great reaction – started selling immediately. Probably not a long term project – but would be interesting for a while… domestic travel schedule started again. Another Skal Club lunch – a testimonial to a dear friend from Japan – I was asked to make the introductory speech.
Japan and Asia – only 3 trips for the year – one to Singapore and Bangkok to look at a possible publishing venture, and two to Hong Kong. My friend in Hong Kong had a serious motorcycle accident in May – he was critical for several weeks, and I visited twice.
Australia – Carla started her Law degree at University of Queensland – JB won a berth in the under 13As Cricket squad – and played his first Golf Pennants match at GC Country Club – won 8/7. Ending the year on a sad note – friend and tourism industry identity Toshi Watanabe was killed in a road accident at Condong NSW – Memorial Service on Gold Coast and funeral in Tokyo.
More from John’s Story…
|1967||1970||Into, and Out of, Africa|
|1971||1980||A Quieter Life|
|1981||1990||The IVF Years|
|1987||It takes Three to Tango|
|1991||2000||Going it Alone|
|1998||A House Somewhere|
|2001||2010||A Change of Pace|
|2005||More Fishing Trips|
|2011||2020||Three Score Years and Ten?|