When Asher and Julie Telford walked into the Queensland Tourism Awards gala ceremony on Friday night, little did they know they’d be painting the event’s prestigious ‘Hall of Fame’ red.
Having only established their boldly branded tourism business ‘Red Cat Adventures’ six years ago, the Whitsunday couple departed the Brisbane Convention Centre on a pinnacle they never dreamed they’d reach.
Winning double Gold for the third consecutive year in the ‘Adventure Tourism’ and ‘Major Tour and Transport Operator’ categories, also established Red Cat Adventures as ‘Hall of Famers’ in both classes, placing them among the ranks of Queensland’s tourism elite.
Receiving such recognition for excellence in arguably one of the toughest times the global tourism industry has ever faced is an achievement not lost on the Telfords and their 27 staff.
“Initially we just wanted to survive but incredibly we’ve actually exceeded our expectations and goals, and we’re now in a really strong position when borders re-open and international travel resumes,” Julie Telford said.
“Throughout the last 18 months, we’ve remained positive and optimistic; we always knew this was a temporary situation so we took the opportunity to streamline the business, coming out of the global pandemic a more efficient, more effective, more profitable company.
“When other people shut their businesses and took a break, we kept going in any way we could – we employed more staff rather than less, we chased opportunities we might never have thought of previously and we worked harder than ever before.”
Being around 86 per cent internationally reliant prior to the onset of Covid 19, meant transformational changes for the Red Cat Adventures team.
Initially acclaimed for their Whitsunday day tours on purpose-built ‘Thundercat’, as well as overnight sails aboard ‘Tongarra’ and escapes to paradise at the idyllic Paradise Cove Resort, the Telfords not only tweaked these offerings to suit the ever-changing circumstances, but also added a raft of new ones.
“We’ve completely diversified our products, targeting domestic travellers and the family market, as well as embarking on Eco and Edu-tourism initiatives that encourage ‘travel for good’,” Asher Telford said.
“For example, our ‘Immersive Learning Project’ is tailored to the school curriculum as well as offering interactive and fun experiences for all ages and group sizes, with research tours, indigenous experiences, maritime skilling and team-building opportunities, all options guests can now choose from.
“We’ve also established the Red Cat Research Project, positioning our staff as Great Barrier Reef ambassadors, and become the first and only marine tourism business in Australia accredited through the high standard Savannah Guides program, esteemed worldwide.
“We now offer a brand-new day tour aboard our fully refurbished sailing vessel ‘Tongarra’, and we’ve re-configured the Paradise Cove Resort from backpacker-style accommodation to twin-share bungalows with bath-houses built on.
“Last but not least, we’re also continuing to demonstrate our capacity to re-purpose vessels for transport and logistics, servicing Whitsunday island resorts, production companies and big budget films.”
With scarcely a moment to celebrate the win, thanks to the launch on Sunday of a brand new ‘Wild Cat’ vessel, bound for day tours out of Mackay, the Telfords’ first thoughts were with their staff.
“Our staff are the backbone of this company and just as we support them, they support Ash and I,” Julie Telford said.
“It’s been a privilege to watch their personal development and a pleasure to lead this team – we’re incredibly proud of what we’ve all achieved,” Asher Telford added.
Red Cat Adventures is now in the running for Hall of Fame in the Major Tour and Transport Operator category at the upcoming Australian Tourism Awards.