By Nicole Richards

A strong sense of community has underpinned the philanthropic activities of Australia’s largest locally owned tour company, the APT Travel Group for generations. Established in 1927 by Bill McGeary who seized a business opportunity to shuttle stranded commuters between Northcote and Clifton Hill during a tram strike, the company is still owned and operated by the McGeary family.

Now, with more than 500 staff and a stable of brands that includes APT, Captain’s Choice, Botanica World Discoveries, Antarctica Flights and Travelmarvel, the McGeary family values remain firmly imprinted across the Group.

“Because we’re a privately held company with strong family values, our giving evolved organically over the years,” explains APT Director and Chair of the One Tomorrow Charitable Fund, Robert McGeary.

“We’ve always wanted to make sure we’re doing our bit and that what we do aligns with our family values.”

Robert McGeary and Madeleine Curtain - One Tomorrow Foundation

Robert McGeary and Madeleine Curtain of the One Tomorrow Foundation

APT has supported wildlife conservation and remote Indigenous communities along with other charitable initiatives through its fund at Australian Communities Foundation for more than 15 years. The Fund, which was established with money that had previously been put aside for the McGeary family foundation, receives a proportion of the APT Group’s net profit (after tax) each year.

A formal review of the company’s giving 18 months ago revealed clear opportunities to generate even more impact by formalising its philanthropic activity and setting clear objectives.

“Further than just having a commercial obligation to be a good corporate citizen we also want to lead the way and set the example for other organisations, especially in the travel industry,” McGeary says.

“We want to provide an example of what can be done; to answer the question ‘What does a good travel company look like?’

“By introducing the One Tomorrow Fund we will continue to grow our giving program, benefiting our greater community and forging meaningful connections with our guests that are preserved long after they return home.”

Madeleine Curtain, who was appointed to the newly created role of Foundation Manager, oversees the APT Group’s philanthropy and says the objectives for the One Tomorrow Fund are deeply integrated into the company’s operations. Company donations, staff fundraising, payroll giving and matching, staff volunteering, product giveaways and customer giving are all within the One Tomorrow Fund’s sights for 2019-2020.

“Our strategy for the One Tomorrow Fund has two parts,” Curtain explains.

“By introducing the One Tomorrow Fund we will continue to grow our giving program, benefiting our greater community and forging meaningful connections with our guests that are preserved long after they return home.”

“The first is an internal focus on staff engagement, employee and organisational giving. The second part is an external focus which asks the question, ‘How can we connect our customers to the causes?’ The opportunity is enormous for us to have a positive impact in both environmental and humanitarian causes.”

The launch of the One Tomorrow Fund’s staff engagement program, which showcased the work of Rural Aid and Blue Dragon, has already yielded positive impacts.

Blue Dragon

Blue Dragon

“The uptake among staff has been high,” Curtain says.

“Already we’ve seen how that engagement has started the change the conversation around the workplace with people coming to me with situations they might be involved in with their own charitable giving or volunteering.

“There were tears in the room for the Rural Aid talk and that brought people to a place of vulnerability that you don’t usually get in the workplace,” Curtain continues. “The watercooler conversations have changed and that’s an on-flow of the launch which is really positive.”

As Chair of the One Tomorrow Fund, Robert McGeary says the response from staff has “exceeded all expectations”.

“The way we’ve structured One Tomorrow is like a division of the business – we don’t see it as a standalone organisation. We wanted something that’s across the whole business and is very much a part of what we do – something that lets people feel part of it.”

Launching the Fund with a ‘super deal’ offer under which the company pledged to triple staff donations for the first three months, served as a springboard to engagement that “changed our consciousness,” McGeary explains.

“For example, we held a launch for our TravelGlo brand and used glow sticks as part of that launch. Afterwards, a couple of staff approached us and said, ‘Is this really in line with our environmental consciousness?’ I love that this is now part of the discussion; that we’re having these conversations about behaviour change.

“As directors of the business we were elated.”

McGeary, who makes it a practice to travel with the company’s customers twice each year, says that the interest from travellers who want to help the communities or causes they encounter is growing.

“They’re very conscious and they see what’s going on and ask, ‘What can I do to help? What can I do that would make a difference? How can I help these kids get to school or help this village get electricity or protect the orangutans?’

“This is the positive side of travel, providing education and enlightening people. What we’re trying to do with the One Tomorrow Fund is not only help with that knowledge but connect people with action which is the next step beyond awareness.”

The Group plans to roll out its giving opportunities for travellers in 2020.

Australian Communities Foundation CEO, Maree Sidey, says the APT Travel Group’s integrated approach to corporate giving is to be applauded.

“APT has done a terrific job of thinking through what it is the Group wants to achieve with its giving,” Sidey says.

“Everything has been carefully thought through and the Group’s ambition to involve clients in a fully integrated way is an innovative step.”

What we’re trying to do with the One Tomorrow Fund is not only help with that knowledge but connect people with action which is the next step beyond awareness.”

For APT, the support and infrastructure provided by Australian Communities Foundation has helped give the Group the confidence and freedom to pursue its giving objectives, rather than getting bogged down in administration. McGeary says APT’s 15-year relationship with Australian Communities is still going strong.

“We love that we can make the donations and get the appropriate tax deduction and ACF covers all the administrative side of compliance. They’ve also helped source and connect us with different causes and organisations.

“ACF brings validity and independence to what we’re doing,” McGeary says. “It gives travellers and staff confidence in what we’re doing because everyone knows the due diligence has been done and the funds are being used properly.

“That makes it easy for us to focus on what we want to do and what we’re good at.”