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InterCity’s John Thorburn on the firm’s first foray overseas

30 Jan 2018  By Contributor

InterCity Group CEO John Thorburn on the company’s recent expansion beyond NZ with its purchase announced last Thursday of the Cairns-based Tusa Group, which operates a variety of cruise products.  

John Thorburn

At the end of 2017, the InterCity Group team and I reflected that this was our busiest year ever: most projects taken on and delivered; most customers served; and most rapidly evolving external market environment. Funnily enough, I recall the same conversation at the end of 2016, and the year before…
The reality is inescapable. We are operating in a growing and fast-evolving marketplace, with change driven to a large extent by technology innovation and a customer base which is better informed and clearer in their expectations than ever before.
While we strive to stay ahead of the curve in our marketing efforts, we’re constantly reminded that in the end, delivering safe, consistent and authentic experiences outweighs all else. In doing so, we create the most powerful of all marketing assets – customer advocates, who share their experiences through word of mouth and social channels instantly and with greater reach than ever before.
The start of 2018 has already set the tone for another memorable year at InterCity Group. Last week we announced our first foray beyond New Zealand shores, with the acquisition of Cairns-based Tusa Group. Tusa offers a range of marine-based tourism products, which showcase the stunning Great Barrier Reef with active participation through snorkelling and diving experiences.
The decision to invest in this market and this business followed a period of extensive research. While we remain a proud family company with a rich history in New Zealand’s transport and tourism segments, we were keen to broaden our portfolio across another market, with the aim of leveraging our capabilities and our tourism networks. Whilst the location is different, many of our skills and experiences gained through our Fullers GreatSights operation in the Bay of Islands is relevant with this new investment.
Tourism in North Queensland is enjoying growth and momentum consistent with our New Zealand market, with Cairns itself set to benefit from multiple new hotel builds and new investment in the area.
For InterCity Group, this acquisition is the third in the last two years, reflecting our positivity about the industry and our ambition for sustainable growth. Prior to the Tusa investment, we added the Auckland Explorer Bus hop on hop off tour operation to our family, and also secured the New Zealand licence for Gray Line, the world’s largest sightseeing brand.
Recognising that growth ahead of organisational capability is a recipe for failure, InterCity Group has been investing heavily in its operations, through new technology, new fleet and a focus on attracting and nurturing the talent needed to sustain our success.
Challenges and opportunities
My last decade or so in tourism has been enough to experience the full spectrum of market highs and lows. The last few years have been outstanding for most of us. My sense is that as an industry, the changing landscape has caused us to mature and become more sophisticated in our thinking about the issues that affect tourism.
For many organisations, the notion of sustainability has broadened from simple environmental performance to something more complete – incorporating our ability to remain financially viable over the inevitable peaks and troughs, our capacity to attract talent and to ensure that our people can thrive and grow over the long-term, and (perhaps more relevant than ever before) our ability to maintain the support and goodwill of New Zealanders.
On the last point of “social licence”, we’ll know that we’re getting this right when we see ongoing examples of tourism success enabling investment that enhances the lives for members of communities, such as new infrastructure and great new experiences to enjoy. It feels as if we are collectively poised to make some true gains on this.
The year ahead
While external uncertainties beyond our control will always be present, at InterCity Group we’re upbeat about market conditions in 2018 and excited by the prospect of our new status as a “trans-Tasman” business. Work on future-proofing our business will continue relentlessly, while remaining open to further opportunities that complement our core strengths.
From all of us at InterCity Group, we wish everyone in the tourism industry a safe and successful 2018.

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