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This year’s prestigious New Zealand Tourism Awards sees Forgotten World Adventures, Redwoods Treewalk and Nightlights, and Kaitiaki Adventures shortlisted for the Tourism Sustainability Business Excellence Award – less than $6m annual turnover category, proudly sponsored by Tourism Ticker.

Ahead of the winner being announced at a black-tie dinner in Christchurch next Thursday, the Ticker asked the finalists about their respective journeys, the lessons they have learnt and what the nomination means for their business.

15 Oct 2019  By Staff Reporter | news@tourismticker.com | @tourismticker

We’ll start with the oldest business in the trio, Rotorua’s Kaitaki Adventures, which was founded in 1999 and has grown to include white water rafting and sledging on the Okere Awa as well as guided hikes on Mt Tarawera.

Co-founder and director Jason Wright said he believes that staying true to the business values of kaitiakitanga, whanaungatanga and manaakitanga over this 20 year period has helped Kaitiaki Adventures get where they are today – and also secure the coveted nomination.

He also credited also the operation’s “longstanding robust relationship working with mana whenua, Kaitiaki’s amazing guides and staff and the diverse jaw-dropping landscapes” in which the business operates including Okere Awa and the Maunga Tarawera as crucial factors.

When asked to single out the biggest learning curve the business went through, Wright identified something that most businesses in the industry can relate to – seasonality, and for weather-dependent Kaitiaki, the effects of early stage global warming which means unseasonable weather patterns with increased intensified rainfall are also in the mix.

Wright said that these challenges have taught Kaitiaki the “importance of diversity”, which means the business now has “extensive development plans out to 2025” which include partnerships with land trusts and iwi.

And as for advice for start-ups looking to build a sustainable business, Wright said: “Be excited about entering such an amazing industry, but also understanding the responsibility we all play in terms of looking after our truly spectacular backyard.

“Businesses must have a deep understanding of both product/experience and distribution channels, and have the ability to adapt to changes in market trends.”

Some two years after Rotorua’s Kaitiaki was founded, the Balme family comprising Ian, Rachel, Holly, Alice and Emily took the plunge into tourism, buying and adapting golf carts to turn an old railway line in Taumarunui into the experience now known as Forgotten World Adventures.

The business includes guided tours ranging from three hours to two days on rail cart, jet boat, helicopter, bicycle or canoe built around the 142 km line between Stratford and Okahukura, which has 24 tunnels and 98 bridges.

But it is not just about exploring the pristine native bush, rugged hills and isolated farmland according to founder Ian Balme, it is about storytelling.

“Tourism in New Zealand is about storytelling. The better you can tell the story, and the more your story is included in your product, the more likely you are to succeed. We are fortunate at Forgotten World to be endowed with a past enriched with stories from pre and post-European settlement.”

Balme’s advice to others looking to get into tourism is “don’t be afraid to take a chance,” but added that when you do, “ensure you have the determination to see it through.”

It is this determination that Balme said is a key ingredient in Forgotten World’s so-called ‘special sauce’, alongside the fact that the business understood and embraced sustainability from its inception, and that it created a unique experience for people of all ages to explore a part of New Zealand rich with adventure, history and culture.

He added that the nomination is an acknowledgement of the huge amount of work that himself and wife Rachel, with a “dedicated amazing team”, have put in over the last eight years.

“It’s not only a great honour, but it also serves as a sign that we’re doing something right to be named a finalist in the New Zealand Tourism Awards. This recognition provides a solid foundation for the continued growth and development of Forgotten World Adventures,” Balme said.

Completing the three-strong shortlist is another Rotorua-based business, Redwoods Treewalk & Nightlights which was co-founded by Alex Schmid and Bruce Thomasen and opened to the public on 21 December 2015.

Storytelling is also integral to this attraction which features 700 meters of eco-suspended bridges & platforms at heights of up to 20m to provide manuhiri of all ages a unique fully immersed forest experience, day or night.

The history of the Whakarewarewa redwoods, the land, native forests, ferns, the treewalk build, world forests, sustainable forestry, research and education all get imparted to visitors on the experience.

It is no mean feat launching a successful new tourism business in a popular – and therefore competitive – tourism destination such as Rotorua, but executive director Thomasen has some good advice for those who want to follow suit anywhere in the country.

He said: “We want kiwis to love what we offer and for them to want to share the Redwoods Treewalk experience with their family and friends.

“What I can say is, if you win over the locals and domestic travellers the international visitors will follow them. Kiwis have a lot of choice and they know what is a great experience.”

Thomasen shares some other factors he believes to have helped the success of Redwoods Treewalk. “We are very lucky to operate five minutes from Rotorua CBD in what is arguably one of the best recreational forests in the world where there is walking, mountain biking, relaxing and just taking in nature. Prince Harry’s departing comment after visiting the Redwood Forest was ‘enjoy this heaven’.”

But that alone is not enough. Thomasen adds: “We absolutely understand our role as guardians of this special place and this drives our design, product development, service and processes.”

“Sustainability is no longer a wish list item, it is an expectation of our customers.”

(Source: Tourism Ticker)