Transporting you to nature.
June 8th, 2020

We’re doing okay; Getting through New Zealand’s lockdown as a tourism operator

Phew, 2020 has been quite the ride. To be honest, we’ve wanted to get off at a few points along the way.

But we’re still here. And as always, we are optimistic about what the future brings. Fiordland Outdoors Co. is a tightknit team, and throughout the challenges of 2020 (floods, lockdowns and pandemics) we have focused on keeping our team together and the business operational.

And I guess we’ve done it.

We’re feeling grateful that we will reopen our business post-lockdown with our team and our products intact. Yes, there have been some changes to how we do what we do. But thankfully we are still doing it.

As business owners and parents, Mark and I are often challenged by finding balance between family and business. Like many small business owners, we found 2020 was the year that flipped all of this on its head, and at many times we were unsure what we were supposed to be doing.

Let’s face it, 2020 has not been a great year for tourism businesses. In February, a major flooding event impacted most operators in the Fiordland area as major infrastructure damage shut down the Milford road and parts of the Milford Track and Routeburn Track. This event occurred in what should have been our busiest time of year—the time of year that we make hay while the sun shines, as they say. Well, any chance of making hay was obliterated when Covid-19 arrived in March. The global pandemic brought about the closure of New Zealand’s borders and then a complete lockdown of the country on March 25th. This lockdown essentially ended the summer season for tourism, and nobody knew how long it would last.

So, how do you get through an event like this when things are so far out of your control? How do you navigate through such uncertain times?  Our personal experience has been something of a rollercoaster. On the one hand, we have missed out on the earnings that we would normally see from northern hemisphere visitors as they flock to New Zealand to enjoy long days and warm weather. On the other hand, we have enjoyed some of the most incredible family time we have had for a long time.

As a family, we hunkered down at home in Te Anau with our two boys and the dog. We took long walks, rode the bikes and felt truly grateful for the incredibly safe and pristine town we live in. But as any small business owner knows, it’s impossible to completely switch off. Mark and I found ourselves flipping between enjoying chilling out and focusing on time with the boys, to feeling guilty about how much we were enjoying having the downtime. And then there was the uncertainty of what the future held on a local and global scale, and of course for our business.

But I’ve always adhered to the saying that worrying only means you suffer twice. Rather than stressing out about a global situation we could do nothing about, we instead got to work on getting our ‘house’ in order. Cash, customers and the Fiordland Outdoors Co. team were our initial focus. We never doubted that we were in a position to ride out this storm, so our priority became reassuring our team and our loyal clients we would still be here when life returned to “normal”.

Once we dealt with those customers who were unable to fulfil their trips with us because of border closures, we got to planning for the next season. This was a bit of a guessing game, but we wanted to reassure our team that we would be ready to go as soon as we were able.

We recognised early on that we couldn’t take anything for granted. Instead, we chose to confidently plan for the future with flexibility. At the same time, we wanted to show the courage to change where needed. With this attitude, we were able to see the bright lights on the horizon and go after them.

Fiordland Outdoors Co. is a boutique operation, which gives us the ability to be nimble. We can weather the storm, but we also have the ability to start up the business quickly when the storm passes. When New Zealand’s lockdown level eased back, we had the Kepler Water Taxi cruising across Lake Te Anau for trips to the Kepler Track. We are currently running a special rate on the Water Taxi trips, and we are loving seeing locals get their “dose” of nature’s medicine.

As a boutique operator with a wide range of offerings, we feel positive, yet realistic about what next season will bring. Many of our products which involve private guiding and helicopter tours appeal to northern hemisphere visitors. We have been buoyed by a good number of forward bookings coming in, but we know this side of the business will look different for a while to come yet. We also know that our essential track transport products to the Milford Track and the Kepler Track will hit the spot for kiwis as they head out to explore their backyard. We were delighted to see so many New Zealanders out seeing the famous sights of Milford Sound and the Milford road over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.

No doubt, things will stay challenging for a while. But we see ourselves as winners because we have our team still with us, we have all of our wonderful products ready to run again, and we are working damn hard to make sure the business is looking strong when visitors once again visit our shores.

Finally, our thoughts are with our peers in the New Zealand tourism industry. We know that for many businesses there have been some tough calls made in the past few months; calls you never thought you would have to make. We are all doing the best we can and we hope everyone is doing okay.

We’re always here for anyone who wants to talk, or just take a walk in nature for a much-needed break.