This year I attended the inaugural Newbook Tourism Innovators Conference, hosted by Newbook founder, Brad Illich, on the Gold Coast. One of the things I loved the most about this conference was the integration of the caravan industry and the wider tourism community.
You see Newbook was developed by a "parkie", Brad Illich, who grew up working at his parents Holiday parks, studied IT, and created a new Property Management System that did everything the others didn't. In doing so, he also created a fair amount of interest in his product from the wider tourism community, morphing the software to suit Yacht Charters, Hotels, Marinas, and any other kind of property/business that needs managing.
I got to catch up with Brad & his partner Shaye in his office over in Surfer's Paradise to talk about what's next on the agenda for Newbook, entering the Future Leader's awards twice, and their takes on the best places to explore on the Goldie.
See the full transcript below.
Hey Brad! Last time I saw you, you were hosting your own inaugural Newbook tourism innovators conference at Seaworld on the Gold Coast, did you ever manage to salvage that golf cart?
Brad: That bill was quite high, but I think Donna managed to say RSA, shouldn't have fed those 'parkies' so much booze, so we got out of paying for it.
I like your style! Hey all jokes aside, you did successfully create a platform that not only connected the leaders in the caravan industry with leaders in the broader tourism industry, but promoted innovation and technology. What was your standout moment at the Conference?
Brad: The conference was a massive ordeal, it was about 12 months work to put it together. I think for me, it was getting up on stage and showing people not only what we've done, but what we're working on in the future, and just the gasps from the crowd, and the applause from the crowd. I think Angus Brooker probably summed it up. He took it upon himself to get up on the stage at the end and say "we came as Newbook customers, and we left as a Newbook community". So I'd say that that's probably the highlight of the conference.
Brad: Definitely. They're operators, they're in the business 24hours a day, so they know what it's like to deal with the day to day running of the business. I'm obviously not there like I was when I was growing up, so Geoff helps me out a lot. I speak to him a lot, and run ideas past him. Ken is quite involved with the industry and Top Parks, so it's really helpful to have brothers who can help out and just say 'yes' or 'no'.
What's the riskiest business decision you've made?
Brad: Oh, I mean, I've put it all on the line several times now, you look back and you think, 'wow! that really worked out'. The conference was one example, you know that was about a $350k spend.
Do you think it paid off?
Brad: Definitely. Definitely.
Favourite camping spot?
Brad: Shaye and I have done some camping, but when I was younger I used to love going over to South Stradbroke Island to the Currigee camp. Probably because there's no cars. You've got to go by tinny and even though you're still on the Gold Coast, you're kind of disconnected from everything.
Favourite activity on the Goldie?
Brad: It's the water sports. Have a look here. It's the Nerang river. I grew up going down this river in my tinny, later with a bigger boat and jetski, and I've seen this office has been here since the 90s. I've dreamed about it, thinking, 'hey, that's gotta be the best office you could ever have', and here we are!
I think you might be right, mate! Hey, you were the second person to take out the Future Leaders of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia award. You won the award on the back of successfully creating Newbook. What would you say it was, specifically, that got you the top prize?
Brad: Well you've got to remember I didn't win the first time, I entered twice. That's the same with a lot of the awards I've entered. We didn't win the Queensland Tourism awards the first time either. So with the Caravan Industry award, the first time I think I didn't win because I didn't understand the other side of the industry. I understood the parks, and everything I talked about was parks. But I didn't understand the caravan manufacturer and so on.
So, the following year, that's when we tied up a TV stint with Jayco, and we really brought the two sides together, so I think that's what won it for me, was knowing the entire industry.
You've openly told me that you've never been comfortable with public speaking, yet you seem to put your hand up to speak at industry events & training, and you don't shy away from the camera. What advice would you give to newcomers to the industry who are balking at these opportunities?
Brad: I think everyone gets nervous, it's totally natural, you know, I do as well. What I've found is when I take notes or write my speech down it's terrible, it really is. I think if you speak from the heart it always comes across a lot more natural and people will also relate to you a lot more. So talk about what you know, and talk about real life experiences, and it's easy.
Most exciting development for Newbook in 2018?
Brad: It's difficult to put it down to one, we're always doing new things and working on new projects. But I'd say the Artificial Intelligence that we're working on, is pretty exciting, we're calling it 'Newbie', your newest 24/7 employee. So the idea is, people these days, who are more familiar with the idea of texting and writing versus speaking on the phone, will be able to talk to Newbie, ask information about a park, enquire about availability and place a booking 24 hours a day, without you having to pay a staff member to do it, so that's pretty exciting.
Far out, that's crazy!! Hey Shaye! Good to see you! You've been an active part of the Newbook team for 3 years now. What's been the most exciting development for you?
Brad: Definitely seeing Newbook grow. We're always recruiting and hiring new staff, we have leads and sales coming from all around the world, and it's just a business that's growing dramatically. We're attending more international conferences, and now like Brad said, we have the ability to move into our dream office, so space for more growth.
At the innovators conference you lasted about 50 seconds on the bucking bull... You impressed a lot of people, have you been developing these skills further?
Shaye: No, cause I tried a second time, thinking I would out do that number, but ended up with a neck injury for about 3 months, so yeah, probably not.
Has Brad taken you snowboarding yet? Or is he a bit scared of getting shown up?
Shaye: He has actually which I am surprised about, we went to Aspen, what year was it?
Shaye: Which was amazing, and he actually was pretty good himself, he was on skis though so he's yet to go on the board, but we loved it and we named our son 'Aspen' after that holiday, so a few more snow holidays to come!
What's your favourite spot to take the family?
Shaye: Probably similar to Brad, boating is really good for us and our lifestyle. We've got the three boys, under five, so they're all contained in the one space, we're all outdoors, they go a bit crazy in the house, so that's probably up there.
Brad: Anywhere with water, they just love swimming, beach,
Shaye: Bike rides, and taking the dogs for a walk.
As always it's been a pleasure Brad and Shaye! Do you have any parting advice for the future leaders of the caravanning industry?
Brad: Party advice?!? Kate, you'd be the best person to ask! But I think, you know, first night of the conference, don't go too hard. You know if it's a three day conference, you don't want to be pulling an "Erin Cullen" and losing your voice on day 2!!
Shaye: She'll kill you! Lol
Brad: It's not a good look... haha na, we love you Erin!
Thanks again, and will we see both at the industry conference in May!
Brad & Shaye: See you then!