All about Oz Experience
26.12.2010 23 °C
Important: Oz Experience and Kiwi Experience are owned by different companies. They were once owned by the same company, but this all changed in 2005 when Adventure Tours Australia bought Oz Experience from THL New Zealand. It's also important that you don't compare the two companies too closely. The reasons are as follows
- New Zealand is a small country, which generally means much shorter driving times. It means you spend more time off the bus doing stuff during the day. In Australia you have to spend a lot of time on the bus.
- Kiwi Experience has some excellent competitors in New Zealand: Stray Travel Network and Magic Bus are the two best ones. This competition means you have to work very hard to set yourself apart. In Australia the only real competition on the East Coast for Oz Experience is Greyhound
Oz Experience has struggled over the years to separate itself from Greyhound, and it still does. It's a product that relies heavily on travel agents and good marketing to convince people to pay the extra money. The product changes a lot as Oz Experience searches for ways to find a bigger audience, and this confuses people and creates uncertainty with customers. It’s not a product that walks off the shelves like a simple Greyhound ticket, yet it offers little more than a Greyhound ticket and can cost $300 more than a Greyhound ticket. So, as the Oz Experience marketing people like to say, "Why Oz Experience?"
Oz Experience tells us on their website that "our guides and meeting other travellers are by far the best things about Oz Experience." What this means is that the guides are probably fun and entertaining people who can keep you amused, they will help you to choose and book activities along the way, and they will keep you informed about the country and culture, etc. They say in the brochure that the guide is "your own personal travel agent" so the assumption is they are trained and paid like a travel agent (earn commission so are motivated to sell-sell-sell!). Most of the guides would not have experienced the trips first-hand so some aren't really that well equipped to sell. My advice is to talk to other travellers (online or face-to-face) who have done it, or make a few comparisons first, or use a trained travel agent. Overall though I think a well informed tour guide who also drives the bus and helps you with the day-to-day affairs of travelling is a good feature. Some travellers like someone to hold their hands and tell them what to do, others not so much.
If you can be bothered listening (ipods seem to occupy peoples ears more than useful info these days) you will learn a lot about Australia from the Oz Experience guides. A good guide book like Lonely Planet is just as useful though. Guides cannot talk all day and the travelling days are very long in Australia. Based on that it’s hard to make a call on whether or not a good guide is better than a good guide book. In places like the Northern Territory a good guide is worth every dollar as outback travel can be a risky business.
Oz Experience includes some activities in the price of the normal ticket: A surf lesson of about 2.5 hours duration, and a goat rodeo and whip cracking and mechanical bull at a cattle station. Whether you like it or not you are paying for these things. Oz Experience also says it uses comfortable coaches yet the brochure is full of photos of small minibuses. I think you'll find they use a mixture of vehicles both small and larger.
Earlier I said Oz Experience east coast tickets were up to $300 more than a similar Greyhound express ticket. I also said it was hard to justify to customers why they should pay more for essentially the same thing. Oz Experience it seems agrees with this so in January 2011 is launching the "Oz Express" ticket to try and nab some customers from the express bus market. It’s a ticket with restrictions on where you can get on and off the bus, and it has no surf lessons or farm activities included. It's certainly cheaper, a whole $295 cheaper and makes me wonder why you'd then bother to pay $295 more for the full-priced Oz Experience ticket. What Oz Experience might be saying by launching an express service is that we can no longer justify charging $300 more than Greyhound for things that have little value in the eyes of the customers. So what are the restrictions on the Oz Express ticket?
- On day-1 between Sydney and Byron Bay you cannot get off the bus at the Surf Camp. I'm not sure if this means you can get off everywhere else except the Surf Camp. (The Surf Camp is 550klms from Sydney and 200 or so klms from Byron Bay.)
- You cannot get off the bus at the Cattle Station. You must keep going to Airlie Beach
To anyone reading this blog and not yet travelled in Australia these restrictions probably make little sense. Take it from me that they're not a big deal at all except to say that that both make for extremely long travel days.
So, why else would you buy an Oz Experience ticket? Many travel companies make bold statements about things offer very little value to the average traveller. They seem important but really these are things that you could easily figure out after 1-2 days travelling. The Australia travel forum on this website is filled with questions and answers on the same things over and over again. It’s an incredibly useful tool this website because by answering simple questions it saves travellers a lot of headaches and money. It’s better than your average backpacker travel agent because backpacker travel agents put a spin on things to make money so makes them seem more complex than they actually are. Backpacker Travel Agents, in my opinion, offer little or no value in simple transactions. A simple transaction to me is a Greyhound Express ticket. A more complex transaction is justifying why you would pay extra to travel on Oz Experience, is it simply because your travel agent told you to?
Oz Experience also offers the "Oz Experience Wristband." They sell it as some sort of VIP pass to bars and nightclubs and food outlets and free luggage storage. (Don't confuse it with the long established VIP backpacker’s card.) When I checked the URL address for the Oz Experience VIP list of discounts it said "page under construction." One thing you'll find everywhere on the east coast backpacker trail is discounts, look at the list of cards on offer: VIP, Nomads, YHA, ISIC and they all offer thousands of discounts. You'll probably end up with one of these cards and they are very useful. The wristband appears to offer nothing more than a Backpacker card (or actually nothing on the website at the time of writing this). In a country drowning with backpacker discounts Oz Experience may have to try harder to create incentives to buy bus tickets.
Travelling the east coast by bus is easy. So it’s one thing you should look to do as cheaply and comfortably as possible. It's a means of getting to some amazing destinations such as the Whitsundays and Far North Queensland. If you want the journey to be a little more interesting and you want some help along the way then Oz Experience might be for you. My opinion is that if you want a lot of help and lots of inclusions such as accommodation and food then do a proper tour with someone like Top Deck or Contiki. The area between an express bus and a fully inclusive tour is a tough sell hence Oz Experience moving to compete with Greyhound with Oz Express tickets. Has this made Oz Experience easier to buy or sell? In my opinion no, it’s made it harder.
The Oz Experience trips that run south from Sydney to Melbourne and on to Adelaide and Alice Springs and Darwin are run by Adventure Tours Australia and are more like tours and flexible hop-on hop-trips. So really can't be compared with the Oz Experience east coast trip. More about those trips later.