Australia Travel Q&A With Traveler of the Year Robert Pennicott
For its December 2012 issue, National Geographic Traveler scoured the globe to find the top 10 Travelers of the Year. Landing on its list: Robert Pennicott, owner and operator of Pennicott Wilderness Journeys in Tasmania, Australia, and entrepreneur, environmentalist, adventurer, and philanthropist extraordinaire. Pennicott’s tour company, which takes visitors along the coastline of southern Tasmania, is one of Australia’s leading ecotourism businesses, and Pennicott donates at least 25 percent of net profits to charity and conservatism. Jetset Extra spoke with Pennicott about his recent recognition and his thoughts about travel, tourism, and Tasmania
Q: What does it mean to you to be selected as one of National Geographic Traveler’s “Traveler of the Year”?
A: Being a Traveler of the Year is an incredible honor. It has given me a great opportunity to share my story with a wide audience of National Geographic readers around the world.
Q: Why is it important to travel?
A: Through travel, we can experience the world. It allows us to discover new places, try new things, and understand different cultures.
Traveling around Australia was a pretty extreme journey. It was a 101-day adventure and a total distance of 12,000 miles. I truly believe that when I die I want to have made a difference to the world. I chose to use travel as a way to spread the word and raise money for the global 20-year fight to eradicate polio. Through travel, I knew I could capture people’s imaginations and bring them along with me for the ride. During the journey I did a daily video blog, which allowed people to follow me every step of the way.
Q: What sort of things do you look for in a destination (adventure, hotels, etc)?
A: I look for a bit of adventure and also the chance to get a true experience of the local culture, food, and people. An authentic, local experience makes the journey very meaningful.
Q: Have you noticed any travel trends for 2013?
A: We are definitely noticing resurgence in international travel, both in terms of Australians going overseas and people choosing to come to Australia for a holiday. Last year, Pennicott Wilderness Journeys had a 2-percent increase in the number of tourists visiting from overseas.
I think travelers are generally looking for a bit of an escape from their day-to-day lives. Wherever they go, they want to do something “a little bit different.” Soft adventure experiences are popular, along with the opportunity to sample delicious food and wine native to the local region. I think travelers also want to do things that give them a great story to go home and talk about.
Q: Where do you plan to travel to next?
A: I am very lucky to live in Tasmania where there are so many places I can take my family away for a short break when we get the chance. About six months ago, we were lucky enough to get a couple of weeks’ break, and as a family we spent a few weeks in Thailand. We thoroughly enjoyed it and so I’d have to say our next big holiday will probably be somewhere in Asia.
Q: In 2011, you circumnavigated Australia in a dinghy to assist Rotary International in its pursuit to achieve worldwide polio eradication. Do you have any philanthropic and/or adventurous plans for 2013?
A: I have big ambitions in the arena of philanthropy. In 2011, my own Pennicott Foundation was established to allow my business to directly contribute to environmental conservation, education, and humanitarian programs. In 2013, I will be working hard to grow the size of the foundation and contribute to a wide range of projects.
The first area of focus is the restoration of the delicate ecosystems of islands surrounding Tasmania. My business contributed $100,000 to the Parks and Wildlife Service to assist them to eradicate a feral species from Tasman Island. Since the eradication was successfully completed two years ago, 100,000 seabirds have been saved. In the coming years, the Pennicott Foundation will assist to ensure this successful program is replicated on other islands.
In the next five to 10 years, my big aim is to tackle the huge global problem we have with plastics in oceans. The scale of this problem is enormous: there are 100 billion plastic bags globally, in America alone there are 2½ million plastic bottles thrown away every hour, the average seabird has 30 pieces of plastic inside its digestive system, and 100,000 marine animals and 1 million seabirds each year are killed after ingesting or being entangled in plastics. There is a huge vortex of plastic off the coast of California that is twice the size of Texas. These statistics are just the surface of the problem, and it’s something I’m definitely keen to tackle.
Q: What inspired you to create Pennicott Wilderness Journeys?
A: Before I established Pennicott Wilderness Journeys in 1999, I was a fisherman for many years. I often used to take people out with me, and they were blown away by the coastal scenery and wildlife that thrived in the area. My tourism business was born out of my love of Tasmania, my pride in the island I call home, and a passionate desire to share it with visitors from around the world.
Q: Why is it important to you to practice sustainable tourism and philanthropy?
A: I don’t believe a business should operate unless it is sustainable from a community, environmental, and financial point of view. I believe that businesses should make a positive contribution to their community and the environment, to help in preserving the lifestyles and landscapes we all enjoy. In the United States, philanthropy tends to be quite embedded within the business community. I think that is an attitude that we need to emulate more here in Australia.
Q: What makes Tasmania special?
A: There’s so much, I don’t know where to start! Tasmania is truly a beautiful island. It is known for its pristine wilderness, beautiful coastlines, fresh produce, fine wine, culture, history, and friendly people. It’s my home, and I absolutely love it.
Q: As a tour operator, you must know the ins and outs of Tasmania. What are your most favorite places to take visitors to the area?
A: Bruny Island, Freycinet National Park, Hobart, Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Port Arthur, Cradle Mountain, and of course one of our tours, Bruny Island Cruises or Tasman Island Cruises!