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Lowdown on the Lockdown… Day 2: RAL’s Michelle Caldwell

27 Mar 2020  By Shannon Williams | | @tourismticker

Michelle Caldwell in her #formalfriday office attire… “not my usual home office garb”

As the country moves into a four-week lockdown in an effort to contain the spread of Covid-19, the Ticker’s ‘Lowdown on the Lockdown’ series brings you a daily take from tourism professionals exploring new ways of working, sharing what life now looks like for them and just how much the pandemic has changed what they do.

Day 2: Michelle Caldwell, general manager sales & marketing at Ruapehu Alpine Lifts

How did day 1 of the lockdown go for you? How are you finding the adjustment?

I will admit it was a little harder than I had anticipated. Not so much the working part, but mentally – more the realisation that this is now happening across all of New Zealand. It’s real! I’ve been so busy playing my part in our IMT (Incident Management Team) at work over the past 10 days that it was really the first chance I’d had to stop for a bit. As for working from home, we’re pretty fortunate in that our business operates from multiple locations normally so we are already equipped and familiar with all of the online ways to connect. This has just been stepped up over the past few days. I do feel that the Government has done the right thing though and hopefully we’ll get through this a little easier than some other countries around the world.

What does your home set up look like?

I have an office on the ground floor of our home. I decorated it when I first set up my own consultancy business prior to joining Mt Ruapehu. I love it as it separates my work life from my home life so I feel like I ‘leave the house’ when I head downstairs to work for the day. My husband has set himself up on our dining room table so we’re able to work without interrupting each other too much.

What kind of interaction are you having with your team? Video chats, conference calls?

Daily check ins have been really important to ensure everyone is feeling okay and have everything they need. Zoom has been kept busy with us (and the whole world!) but it’s awesome to see the team’s faces and feel more connected than just a phone call. We also use Slack for our instant messaging and team wide comms/updates. Most of our systems are in the cloud so it’s been a fairly painless transition for me so far.

Are you doing anything fun to keep up morale?

Our HR manager has set up a really fun check-in system for everyone – 10@10 where we dial in on Zoom and we all just sit and chat, check how everyone is feeling, teach each other new skills (I learnt to tie a clove hitch knot yesterday), wear silly hats, wigs, Hawaiian shirts etc. Today we’re joining Hilary Barry on her #FormalFriday (hence my photo above!). We say hi to pets, kids and other halves and we all hang up with big smiles on our faces. We’re also starting to work on a series of online workshops for our team whilst they’re at home.

Can you tell us a bit about your Friday drinks that you are planning? How did that idea come about and why is that initiative important?

I’m a little bit of a social butterfly so when the main industry events began to cancel, I started thinking about how we could still get together as an industry in the virtual world. It started with a Facebook meme from Adam Taylor-Eruera and Debs Summers and it just grew from there. I’ve had to upgrade my Zoom subscription as I think we’ll be well over the 100 person limit! I anticipated that we’d have maybe 30 people dial in but the response has been incredible, so we’ll see what happens at 4pm tonight. I’m not sure how we’ll moderate something that big but it’s bound to be a good laugh. And who knows? It may grow to bringing in motivational speakers, offering a Q&A session – I’m open to taking it any direction the industry is interested in. It’s just important we hang in there together.

I also set up a Facebook group, “He Waka Eke Noa – Tourism Industry Covid-19 Support Group” last Saturday morning. Again, I thought this could be a place where my friends could share stories, ask questions and maybe tell a few jokes to keep our spirits up. We currently have 685 members and growing and I really believe it’s helped to connect people with others they don’t know but who can answer questions and give advice. There is a lot of brain power from the industry in that group so I would encourage everyone to join in.

Have you and your family/loved ones got anything special planned for the shutdown?

My husband and I are on our own in Taupo with my in-laws in Auckland and London, and my parents in Brisbane. The broadband is getting a good work out with lots of video chats to check on each other. It’s my mum’s 70th next month so our planned trip to Melbourne has sadly been cancelled. I’ll certainly be on the first plane out when we’re allowed to go and see them. We’ll also miss our annual family catch up in the Coromandel for Easter and my husband’s and mother in-law’s birthdays. I’ll have to do some baking and craft to make home-made cards.

Do you have any messages of support you would like to share for the industry?

Hang in there! This won’t last forever and when we recover there will be a lot of pent-up demand from people who want to get out and explore. Take this opportunity to really look at your business and plan for what might be at the end. If your business is predominantly international, how can you develop an experience that will appeal to the domestic market? Remember, this is a global pandemic so anything that’s happening to you isn’t your fault, but you have a great opportunity to reflect on your business model and the time now to make any changes you’ve been thinking about for a while. BUT make sure you also take time for YOU during all of this – it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forget to look after yourself, so take a short walk or sit in the sunshine, do some yoga in the lounge or read that book you haven’t had time to, and stay connected…. Kia kaha whanau. See you on the other side !

If you’d like to contribute to our Lowdown on the Lockdown series, contact the Ticker’s Shannon Williams at


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