Multi-award winning family owned and operated touring company O’Shannessy’s Quality Tours has over 30 years’ experience of coach touring throughout Australia, operating luxury coaches that are custom built for the comfort of senior travellers.
The O’Shannessy family’s involvement in the bus and coach industry started back in 1967, when co-founder Laurie O’Shannessy established a school bus run in Victoria’s Wimmera region. Many years later, the family moved to the Mornington Peninsula and developed a coach tour company specialising in extended accommodated tours across Australia. The Australian Business Executive spoke recently with Managing Director Chris O’Shannessy, who took over the business in 1997, to discuss the company’s accidental beginnings, its numerous industry awards, and the multi-generational approach that promises to keep the business running for many more years.
“Laurie and Margaret, my dad and step-mum, had buses down on the Mornington Peninsula in the early eighties,” Mr O’Shannessy explains. “They were busy doing charter and school runs and so on, but they also had a passion for outback Australia.”
The couple often holidayed up in Alice Springs, in Central Australia, and enjoyed regaling family and friends with their experiences. The idea to expand the business into tours came from an extended friends and family trip to the area in the early-eighties.
“It started by accident really. The people that had travelled on that one-off tour told everyone about it, and due to demand and people finding out about this tour, Laurie and Margaret the next year did another two tours to the same area. The following year, still due to word of mouth, there was three tours, and the next year there was four tours, and so on.”
Those who had travelled on those first tours to Central Australia soon began requesting similar tours to other areas, and Laurie and Margaret were more than happy to oblige. Within a few years they had realised that the foundations of a sustainable business had been set.
“That’s when they decided they were going to have a real go at this, and create O’Shannessy’s Tours. Then they started to do their research and find more destinations to travel to, and set off in the car to travel around Australia to make up the itineraries, and then come home and market the material.”
Mr O’Shannessy grew up watching the development of his father and stepmother’s operation, giving him an excellent knowledge of the burgeoning business. When Laurie and Margaret retired in the late nineties, he was perfectly suited to taking over.
“When I was young, Dad also had buses. So I was always interested in the business, and in bus travel. By the time Laurie and Margaret had decided to start doing tours to Alice Springs, I was at the stage where I had just finished my schooling, so I was able to come along and drive the buses and learn the tours.”
Over the years, Laurie and Margaret began running less of the tours, giving Mr O’Shannessy the opportunity to run more himself, culminating in the co-founders reaching retirement. At this point, Mr O’Shannessy and his wife Bernadette, who was his girlfriend at the time, took over the business.
“These days, our tours range from about four days in duration, right through to about twenty-five days,” Mr O’Shannessy says. “We offer tours all over Australia and also these days quite a few international tours.”
The variety of tours that the company now offers suits a large demographic, and they run throughout the year, with different tours put on to take advantage of the varying seasonal conditions across Australia. This has come about from a demographic that is more than happy to escape the winter weather and seek warmer areas.
“In the autumn and the spring, we’re in the southern parts of Australia, where we get the nice weather, and then of course in the winter, all of our tours are generally north of the Tropic of Capricorn, so up through Queensland and Western Australia.”
The company also offers some local ‘Christmas in July’ tours, but generally speaking tours run in the north during the winter months, heading south again in the spring. Offering around 100 tours a year, the company occupies the higher-end of the market.
“When it comes to the service we provide, it’s certainly high-end, and I’d say second to none. As far as our cost base, we’re probably medium, but what we try to do is keep the price affordable but also add amazing service.”
When it comes to great service, O’Shannessy’s Quality Tours is recognised as a major player in Australia, having been awarded the Australian Achiever Award for Excellence in Customer Services seven times, including for five consecutive years from 2003-2007.
“I think our customer service is a really important part of why people like to come with us. Our folks know that when our chauffeur picks them up from their home to start the tour, right through to when our chauffeur drops them home again after the tour, that everything is included throughout their time away, and that they’ll be really well looked after.”
Changing with the industry
Being a multi-generational family business, it’s fair to say the company has seen significant changes in the industry over the years since Laurie and Margaret O’Shannessy were running it. Mr O’Shannessy thinks most of the changes have been for the better.
“Back in those early days, a lot more of the places we would travel to, the roads were rough and unfilled, such as the road up to Alice Springs. As well as that, there were a lot less accommodation places around Australia. In fact, tourism in Australia was still quite young, there was a lot of Australia that hadn’t been explored by groups and so on by that stage.”
On top of these practical changes, Mr O’Shannessy recognises that the amount and level of competition has greatly increased since the tour company began. This means that O’Shannessy’s must now vary its tours to stay ahead of the game.
“The internet has bought about a wealth of information and choices for people. It’s very important for us to stay in touch with our customers, using both the internet and still the traditional printed material, to make sure that they can find us.”
The tourism industry in general is pretty steady, particularly in domestic touring, which has seen a lot of retired seniors travelling across the country. However, low-income rates have had an impact on discretionary spending, particularly for retired people.
“On the other hand, we have the baby boomers entering that age bracket now,” Mr O’Shannessy says, “which is also a benefit, and I think those people will be very eager to travel [domestically].”
Mr O’Shannessy believes there will always be a demand for domestic and overseas travel of the kind the company offers, especially in the retired senior market. But there will also be subtle changes to the specifics of how people like to experience their tours.
“One of the things we’ve noticed more recently is people tending to enjoy or prefer smaller group travel rather than the larger groups, so we’re now offering quite a lot of small group departures, with a maximum of only 20 people.”
This allows for a more intimate feeling amongst the group, allowing people still to enjoy the benefits of a group tour, but perhaps having a greater chance of getting to know more of the individuals with which they are experiencing the tour.
“Group travelling is a great way to make new friends, and of course they have the safety of group travel. It’s also great for single travellers as well, because they can still share the experience with other people and not be on their own.”
One thing’s for sure, O’Shannessy’s will continue to grow and offer great tours, most likely while keeping its successful multi-generational format. “Ultimately, I’d like to see some of my children continue in the business and take it forward in the long term,” Mr O’Shannessy concludes.
Find out more about O’Shannessy’s Quality Tours by visiting www.oshannessys.com.au.