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Tourism Ticker’s 2019 Person of the Year

20 Dec 2019  By Tourism Ticker

With 2019 coming to a close, it is time for the Ticker to reflect on the 12 months past and nominate an individual who has wrought a widespread influence across this diverse and dynamic sector as our Person of the Year.

As always, some honourable mentions for a year that has seen considerable progress by both public and private participants, but also delivered the industry more than its fair share of challenges.

On that note, the first honourable mention must go to those who responded to the devastating Whakaari / White Island eruption. The immediate and selfless action from White Island Tours crew, pilots from fellow operators Volcanic Air and Kahu NZ who, alongside professional first-responders, risked their own safety to rescue others involved in the horrific disaster.

Whakaari / White Island

As events unfolded, so to did the response from tourism operators and organisations, including those locally such as Ngāti Awa and Tourism Bay of Plenty, right through to national bodies or those located elsewhere who pitched in with professional and personal support.

In the words written for the Ticker by Whakatāne tourism operator and district councillor, Lesley Immink: “Our thoughts and prayers remain, and will continue to be, with the families of Ngāti Awa, White Island Tours, cruise ship passengers and our visitors most affected by the tragic event. To the boys of the skies from Kahu and Volcanic Air, thank you for your bravery and voice that ‘made the difference’. Your efforts were truly courageous.”

There was another operator who gets a place on our list this year for his generous and professional response in the face of a challenge to his business. In March, an Auckland Seaplanes aircraft crashed into the city’s viaduct in an accident that was caused by pilot error.

Chris Sattler (r), NZ Tourism Awards 2017

The 31-year old pilot, who was the plane’s sole occupant and unhurt, was due to go back to his native Canada, but instead of taking the easy – and considerably cheaper – option of letting the pilot go, Seaplanes founder Chris Sattler made sure he undertook extensive retraining with the pilot before he headed off.

The move demonstrates the deep respect that the company has for its people, matching that it has for the environment, having been the first ISO certified carbon-zero air operator in Australasia, and carbon zero since 2016, and – like many of its tourism peers – an active participant in pest control and conservation work.

Despite the challenging start to the year, the six-year-old business went on to close 2019 with the sale of a 33% stake to tourism stalwart to Michael Becker, putting growth firmly on the agenda.

While we wouldn’t expect any argument regarding the aforementioned selections, this next one may not garner widespread agreement. This year the Ticker is including tourism minister Kelvin Davis in its list, on the back of the implementation of the new International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy.

Kelvin Davis

The minister said he was going to deliver, and then actually delivered the divisive levy (let’s face it, when isn’t a tax divisive?). This, in turn, is seeing much-needed funds invested in projects and programmes that have the potential to make a real difference to the sector including the promotion of tourism careers, the management of Milford Sound and visitor safety at Tongariro National Park to name just a few of the early recipients.

So, while we are not (today) passing judgement on the move to introduce the tax, its structure or mechanism, we are saying ‘ka pai Kelvin’ for getting it done.

This brings us to our highest accolade for 2019, which this year goes to an individual whose work has quietly been helping to defuse tourism’s ‘ticking timebomb’ – that of a loss of social licence to operate.

For almost a decade this individual has been using innovation to develop technology as well as crucial relationships and cross-agency partnerships to help make tourism’s camping community more sustainable – and as a by-product the industry at large.

With freedom camping hitting headlines, the work that has been led by Adam Hutchinson at GeoZone came to the fore with its GPS-enabled travel app which at the front helps visitors have a better NZ experience, and at the back collects data to deliver powerful insight to help visitor management. And the technology also got noticed when in 2017 he picked up a gong at NZ Innovation Awards for CamperMate.

Adam Hutchinson

While the business’ CamperMate app is relatively well known, the company’s technology is also behind many of the new initiatives that has been deployed this summer and last – an Ambassador app for use by councils, AI solar-powered cameras to monitor hotspots and ground sensors to inform on campsite availability – on the back of government funding to help encourage responsible camping.

Although GeoZone has graduated from a boot-strapping start-up to corporate ownership, Christchurch-based Hutchinson was happy to share lessons from his journey with participants on this year’s inaugural business accelerator, Lightning Lab Tourism, and as the programme wound down, took over voluntourism concept, Lichen, in a move that will unlock volunteering opportunities for international visitors to New Zealand.

Hutchinson joins previous winners of our annual accolade – regional development minister Shane Jones and Whale Watch Kaikoura’s Kauahi Ngapora – this time for helping drive innovation and using technology to help address a difficult industry problem.

Speaking to the Ticker today between installing AI solar-powered cameras and delivering Ambassador app training, Hutchinson said he was “super-honoured” to receive the recognition, reflecting on his journey to this point which started when he undertook a scooter trip the length of the country and experienced first hand the issues facing keen campers.

“I have always been passionate about travel, but that scooter trip sparked an interest in this country and passion for the tourism industry and technology which has given me the drive to ride out the difficult days that you go through as a start-up. When you know there is something interesting in what you are doing and your gut says push on [despite all the challenges],  then you see the products get used and really help people, it is amazing.”

He also pays tribute to others in the sector, and the attitude of a central and local government that is “open to these ideas” and will engage with a “hungry little start-up” rather than act as a barrier, which Hutchinson believes is quite unique to New Zealand.

He added: “Within tourism there are a whole lot of passionate people working to manage the freedom camping issue. So when you have a lot of people like that around you it is a very positive environment to be involved in – I count myself lucky.”

Well done Adam, may your work continue to make a difference and act as an inspiration to others looking to help solve problems in the industry.

That’s our coverage for 2019. The Ticker starts publishing again on Monday 13 January 2020.

From all of us here, thank you for all of your support this year. We wish you a safe and happy holiday.

The Ticker Team


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