When you speak to Toni Brennan, CEO of multi-award-winning tour company Fun Over Fifty, a few things strike you about her simultaneously: her dedication to excellence, her undeniable commitment to sustainable tourism and her humour.
“You’ve called me at a good time,” she said during a recent phone call, the remnants of laughter in her voice. “I’ve just been on the phone with one of our suppliers – we work with over 600 suppliers, you know – and we were all just in fits of laughter about something she thought I said.”
For someone who heads up one of Australia’s most successful touring companies – Fun Over Fifty was recently featured in the Australian Financial Review as a leading sustainable tour operator, has been announced as a finalist in this year’s Banksia Awards and won silver at this month’s Queensland Tourism Awards – Toni is incredibly down to earth.
It’s a value she’s knitted into the fabric of her company’s success, which started from humble beginnings at a sewing table in the laundry back in 2002. Now leading the charge for a repertoire of 125 ECO certified tours (the most, by far, of any ECO certified tour operator in Australia), Toni still works closely with her staff at all levels and makes time to catch up with Fun Over Fifty’s guests, ensuring that everyone feels like family and that fun is kept front and centre.
Whilst Fun Over Fifty’s website jokes that those lacking a sense of humour need not sign up to take part in their tours, it’s not all fun and games for this company, either. When it comes to sustainable tourism, Toni and her team are seriously dedicated.
With a vision to be recognised as the best quality and most sustainable tour operator in Australia, Toni says the company recognises the need to break stereotypes. Transporting guests in coaches across the country (and a few select international destinations), Toni appreciates the need to show people that business can be done differently: that tour operators can be accountable and show they care.
“It’s a team effort,” she explains, when asked who’s behind the company’s constant eco innovations.
“We have it ingrained in the company vision from [the] CEO, office and on-road crew to consistently look for ideas to innovate, protect and contribute. We strive to create new industry first policies and not just tick the box of donating to big organisations. Our initiatives directly support the regions we visit and [we] strategically plan our offsets from office operations to on road emissions.”
Fun Over Fifty’s sustainability policies and programs are diverse. They include the Green Guest Policy (GGP) – which gives guests the option to say no to room servicing in order to reduce their impact, the Being Seen Being Green (BSBG) initiative – allowing guests to take part in practical measures such as tree planting and dune rejuvenation, ECO, Climate Action and Respecting our Culture (ROC) certification through Ecotourism Australia and a World Environment Day Tree Planting Challenge.
So how do Fun Over Fifty’s guests respond to these initiatives? There is much said today about millennials leading the charge of more conscious and responsible consumption patterns, but not a lot about the over fifties market.
“Our Being Seen Being Green on tour tree planting uptake is so popular that we have to limit participation!” says Toni. The uptake for the company’s Green Guest Policy, which gives guests financial incentives to forfeit room servicing, is also increasing every year.
For those who want an immersive ‘eco’ experience, Fun Over Fifty even offers Helping Hand Holidays and Green Getaways tour programs, which are 100% designed with a focus on ecotourism and community projects and causes.
“Again, the uptake on these tours is increasing annually and feedback is extremely positive. The guests’ emotions and feeling of directly ‘giving back’ [are] incredibly powerful.”
So, what advice would Toni give to other newly certified tourism businesses and operators?
“It’s very rewarding to operate a tour company knowing you are not negatively impacting the environment and that you can create and share wealth in regional areas buying local and hiring local guides, etc. You can be profitable and give back.”
Now that’s something that everyone can have a joyful laugh about.
[Photos: Fun Over Fifty]