• Jeff Ellison
One of Australia’s best known cruise and tourism operators, SeaLink, have purchased Stradbroke Ferries from Transit Systems for a reported $125 million. SeaLink has origins in South Australia and are the Sydney operators of Captain Cook Cruises with operations in three states and the Northern Territory. Managing Director and Chief Executive Office, Jeff Ellison, is our October guest.
Q: Can you tell us a little of the history of SeaLink?
A: : SeaLink has been providing ferry services in Australia for 25 years starting with the iconic Kangaroo Island SeaLink ferry service in South Australia. In 2011 the company expanded when SeaLink acquired the Captain Cook Cruises business on Sydney Harbour and the Sunferries business in Townsville. Our unique business model of providing tourism and marine transport has allowed us to grow as a company as well in regional communities with a tourism industry. Once we have completed the purchase of Transit Systems marine businesses, SeaLink will operate 60 ferries in three states and the Northern Territory, carry over 6 million passengers per annum and employ over 900 staff.
Q: You seem to be not just shipping operators, but definitely tourism orientated?
A: A key focus of SeaLink’s business is the marketing and promotion of the tourism destinations it services. Through our international, domestic and online marketing SeaLink has been successful to increase tourist visitation to the destinations.
Q: Your Captain Cook Cruises on Sydney Harbour are quite sophisticated; has this service been the catalyst for major changes in your operations?
A: The Captain Cook Cruises brand is a world recognised brand and has strengthened our ability to attract additional visitors to the destinations we service. The acquisition resulted in an increase in our sales and marketing teams to over 30 staff who are responsible for targeting Asia, New Zealand, the USA and Europe. This includes our strong domestic sales team and are developing online sales teams.
Q: You are the new owners of Stradbroke Ferries and Bay Islands Transit; what was the appeal of our ferry and barge services to SeaLink?
A: The services fit with our key competencies of providing safe, reliable, regular ferry services. They also fit well with our tourism strategy. Another key attraction for us was their similarity in employee culture and customer service and their strong management teams.
Q: Was North Stradbroke Island tourism a major factor in you decision to purchase?
A: North Stradbroke Island’s tourism potential is a key opportunity for the business. It has an outstanding natural environmental and many Queenslanders and visitors to the state have not visited this island, we are confident we can increase the number of visitors to the island.
Q: It seems SeaLink is about a full tourism package rather than just a transporter; do you see potential for the tourism market here?
A: Yes, the island has a strong potential to attract more visitors. It is a large island that has many natural features that are extremely attractive to visitors. There is whale watching, wild life, beaches, fishing, walking trails, and camping plus a variety of accommodation and something for every budget.
Q: Are you aware of all the islands that you will be servicing here off the coast of Redlands?
A: Yes, we look forward to working with the local community and Council to align our plans with that of the Redland and island communities.
Q: Would you look to further investment in, say, tourism accommodation, which is particularly badly needed on the Southern Bay Islands?
A: It is company policy not to own or operate tourist accommodation, we leave that to other experts. We prefer to help existing owners or new investors to grow their businesses by providing them with additional customers.
Q: Do you believe island tourism will benefit from SeaLink’s background and knowledge in water-based tourism?
A: It is our aim that all businesses can benefit from our knowledge and business practices and that we can work together to grow the market, improve facilities and offerings and create an even better experience to visitors or locals to enjoy.
Q: We note that Lucy Turnbull, wife of the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is one of your directors, you must be delighted with her directorship with SeaLink?
A: Lucy is a valuable member of our Board. She became a Director of the company shortly before SeaLink listed on the ASX in October 2013 and helped us with the transition from private to public company and the development of our growth strategy.