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An Operator’s View: Off Road NZ’s Ian Tew

6 Apr 2018  By Contributor

Ian & Carol Tew

Rotorua-based Off Road NZ boss, Ian Tew, on developing adventure activity products for the C&I market, how Rotorua is competing for the luxury market and the need for more air connectivity to the North Island tourism hotspot.
Off Road NZ has been running for 25 years, it has always been on the same piece of land which is a former dry stock farm block with native forest, located on the Mamaku plateau around 20 minutes north of Rotorua.
We’ve owned the business, which is heavily conference and incentive focused, for 18 years. We offer a range of products including a one hour self-drive 4WD experience, a monster truck 4-wheel steer 4-wheel drive vehicle experience which is normally a 10 minute drive in the native forest, karting, clay-bird shooting, civil defence-style team building and we also have a dining venue.
We also cater to requests from guests so we contract in jet sprints from a supplier who comes in and has their boats on our lake, or we can organise helicopter rides for example.
We have made substantial investment into the business since taking over, including relocating and developing the new main reception and office building and developing the new Raceline Karting track that we opened in July 2010.
It is an international grade kart track – there are only three in the world of this standard – and was developed in in partnership with the Rotorua Kartsport Development Trust so is used for national and international meets as well as for our guests. It is the safety features that make it one of the top tracks in the world and means the karts are capable of getting up to 100km per hour.
We have also added the shooting range and developed a purpose-built track for the monster truck.
As I mentioned, Off Road NZ is heavily focused on the C&I market – it comprises around 60% of our business, with the balance made up of FITs.
The rationale for the design of our expanded offer was getting products that could manage the volume of the sector of the market. To give you an idea of our numbers, the highest output we have had is 300 guests in five hours across a range of activities – that’s not the norm. Our busiest day was having 400 guests spread over a whole day, again that is not the norm.
The majority of our guests are domestic – around 80% compared with 20% international. Our location suits the C&I market well, due to our proximity to Hamilton and Auckland.
We have companies come for day trips from Auckland, but also have that draw from the big Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions.
At the moment the C&I market is particularly strong. We have found that over the last couple of years the construction business has had a lot to do with that. Companies like window suppliers, door suppliers, and then the insurance companies off the back of that – they are all so busy that actually at some point they just have to take a break.
The downturn in the diary industry had us quite concerned. That sector, including agricultural suppliers, was quite a big chunk of our business, but that business was very quickly replaced by the construction industry. Now both are going well again which is nice.
And we of course do overseas incentives work. Most of our business comes from Asia, which is strong at the moment, so we have a lot of international guests from India, Singapore, Indonesian and Malaysia at present.
Tourism New Zealand assists heavily in this sector. They bring a lot of famil groups through, as do the airlines. We work to keep ourselves front of mind with them and also with the agents and conference organisers who book these groups. You can’t go direct to this market – there is so much co-ordination in these trips – it is more about managing your relationships to make sure you keep in touch regularly, and of course do a great job when people come so then they want to come back.
The growth and development in the Rotorua – and the national – tourism industry has been awesome for operators. We’ve got lots of cool products – we’re not the only company people will come and see so it’s awesome to have such variety in this region.
The local infrastructure is great, its tidy, it is being freshened up all the time and developed where necessary.
However, one issue we are hearing more about is the accommodation pinch. For corporates and incentives to get bed nights is not easy, which is a great problem to have. I know it is a financial balance but it is great to hear that there are some more hotels being developed in Rotorua, including a five-star hotel, as this is a market Rotorua has struggled to compete in.
On a national scale, the biggest thing that would make a huge difference to the local industry is air connectivity. I would love to see more flights, and specifically a direct Rotorua-Queenstown route.
Again there is always the financial balance to make that work, but it comes up regularly in discussion with Tourism New Zealand and council and airlines when they are visiting on famils. It seems an obvious link because we constantly hear about Rotorua being the Queenstown of the North Island and we very much are, we’ve got a huge offering of activities in comparison with Queenstown, not only ones you have to pay for but free one like walks and lakes. I think we certainly deserve the connectivity and whatever we could do as a region to make that happen, we will do.
In terms of future proofing, we do keep in mind that we are in a cyclical market, but we are in the fortunate position that being 60% corporate and 40% FIT our market spread is quite good.
And also being domestic we are not too exposed to a crisis in the global markets that could result in the international visitor tap being turned off. The only thing we can’t protect against is a localised disaster – a situation like the earthquakes in Christchurch or Kaikoura – but how do you plan for that really.

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