Ten luxury coaches that Kangaroo Bus Lines acquired to cater for record cruise industry growth in Queensland are testament to the massive impact of the covid pandemic on the region’s tourism sector.
Darren Webster, CEO of the four-generation family said the coaches, each valued at around $550,000, were obtained over a two to three-year period as cruising in Queensland grew dramatically.
Kangaroo Bus Lines’ head office is at Burpengary, 30 minutes from the new Brisbane International Cruise Terminal, and has another office at Kunda Park on the Sunshine Coast.
“When the cruise ships were still sailing, it was nothing for us to have up to 30 coaches a day devoted to a Brisbane call by a cruise liner,” Darren said.
“The buses did a mixture of shore excursions to places such as Australia Zoo and other attractions in Brisbane and its immediate surrounds, through to shuttle bus services getting guests from the port into the CBD and back again. Obviously, the larger the cruise liner, the more buses required on the day.
“We invested heavily in capital to support cruise operations and even though the ships are no longer here, the capital still is, and our tourism business is down about 30 per cent without cruising.
“Over a two to three-year term, we bought 10 coaches, at $550,000 a throw, roughly. It was a substantial investment and included a couple of custom-built stepless vehicles to cater for the elderly and people with disabilities.
“And there was also the investment in ground staff and training to make them seamlessly part of the cruise line brand.”
Following such a significant hit to the business, Darren is backing calls for federal and state governments to engage and agree to a pathway for cruising to resume beginning with domestic itineraries.
He agrees that it will take months for any cruise ships to return but engagement with the industry was needed now to provide the tourism sector with some certainty.
Sture Myrmell, President of Carnival Australia and P&O Cruises Australia, said Kangaroo Bus Lines was one of many business operators around Australia, small and large, for whom cruising is an opportunity that supports local economies and jobs.
“Businesses benefit from the economic activity generated by cruising but the flow has now been cut off for more than a year with no indication of when the tap might be turned on again,” Mr Myrmell said.
“This loss of business opportunity for so many underlines why it is so important for federal and state governments to engage and agree on a pathway for the resumption of domestic cruising limited to Australian guests on ships calling at Australian ports.”
Darren Webster said it was amazing to think that Brisbane had a brand-new international cruise terminal (underwritten by Carnival Australia) that is a state of the art facility but is yet to see a ship at the berth.
He said there was often a reference to ‘we are all in this together’ but there was little recognition that tourism-connected businesses such as his family’s were haemorrhaging money at an alarming rate each day.
“We are part of the tourism supply chain too,” Darren said. “We bring thousands of cruise visitors into Brisbane on our coaches and they spend money adding to the local economy.”
Kangaroo Bus Lines is a family run business, with four successive generations of Websters beginning in 1978 with Stan Webster who, after moving from Victoria, bought the Caboolture-based company when it had just six buses.
His son, Daryl and his wife Jan helped expand the business adding the tourism component. Their children, Darren and daughter Tania, are now CEO and Chief Financial Officer respectively. A fourth generation is also now working in the company, which now has a fleet of more than 135 buses.