Spread the love

Vale Bill KingAustralian tourism has lost one of its greatest personalities and pioneers – Bill King, who passed away peacefully Tuesday night on the Mornington Peninsula, at the age of 92.

King, whose family operated a suburban bus company in Melbourne, started tours to central and northern Australia in 1968 with a Land Rover safari wagon carrying four passengers and a driver, initially following the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition route.

The following tribute was issued yesterday by the Australian Tourism Export Council (ITOA):

Bill King’s Northern Safaris’ success was modest at first (in the first year they carried 30 passengers and lost $9000) – but they opened a new way to experience Australia. Through hard work and tenacity (from Bill, his wife Val and his family) the business grew, and as it did it opened up areas such as Uluru Kata Tjuta to Australian and increasingly international visitors.

Vale Bill King

Vale Bill King

The company’s first foray into the international market came in 1975 when Bill participated in the first ITOA sales mission to the US, and in 1977 following publicity from some visiting journalists and interest from a couple of European wholesalers. Within a couple of years, international visitors comprised 40% of the total business.

In 1980, Bill King’s Northern Safaris merged with Australian Accommodation and Tours to become Bill King’s Australian Adventure Tours, and some years later AAT Kings.

Bill was awarded the ITOA ‘Outstanding Contribution by an Individual to Industry’ in 1982 and in 1983, he became chairman of ATEC’s forerunner, ITOA. During his one-year term, Bill drove the separation from the Australian Federation of Travel Agents to allow ITOA to prosper as a stand-alone body. His action triggered a large jump in membership and he fronted the first ITOA sales mission to the US with outstanding success. Bill was also awarded Life Membership of ITOA in recognition of his contribution.

Following the sale of his touring company, Bill and Val, often in partnership with the late Steve Gregg, spent many years further developing tourism in the Northern Territory, promoting Australia overseas and developing their Glynt by the Sea boutique private hotel on the Mornington Peninsula.

Often referred to as “The King of the Outback” in recognition of his role in opening up Australia’s centre and north for tourism, Bill became the most recognised face of Australian tourism as well as epitomising its best characteristics of resilience, its ‘can do’ attitude and its generosity of spirit.

Upon its 30th anniversary in 2003, Bill was fittingly recognised for his long-term contribution and leadership. The wording on the award aptly encapsulates Bill’s contribution to ATEC and the wider tourism industry.

Vale Bill King

Vale Bill King


A leader’s job is to look into the future and to see the organisation not as it is… but as it can become.

Celebrating 30 years of ATEC

In recognition of your leadership

Bill King

Chairman 1983-84


Vale Bill.


AAT Kings issued its own statement, as follows:

It is with a great deal of sadness that AAT Kings acknowledges Bill King’s passing last night in Melbourne at the age of 92. Bill was an icon of the Australian touring industry and one of the most recognised faces of tourism in this country. Bill was the ‘King’ of our business, founding Bill King’s Northern Safaris, which eventually became AAT Kings in 1980.

Bill developed outback tours that took urbanites off the beaten track in his trademark custom 4WD vehicles, and he had an understanding and respectful inclusion of First Nations tourism that was ahead of his time. The respect Bill had for the land, its people and his sense of adventure are a great legacy and one that AAT Kings continue to honour.

We pass on our greatest condolences to his family and friends.

Vale Bill King

Edited by Peter Needham