In the third of our On the Road series, the Ticker‘s Bridget O’Connell travels to Nelson to meet Wine, Art & Wilderness founder, Noel Kennedy.
Nelson. It’s been a while. About eight years in fact. You seem in rude health. The streets are bustling, the tourism operators are hustling.
A last-minute cancellation means I am able to have a coffee with Wine, Art & Wilderness founder, Noel Kennedy. After showing me how to get an hour’s free parking (press the button on the right first) we find a sunny spot for a flat white and I get a potted history of his business, which he got “tricked into” starting.
Having grown from a one-man band to now employing a team of guides, Kennedy offers half- and full-day tours of vineyards, artists’ studios and eco-attractions throughout the Nelson and Tasman area, catering to the luxury end of the market.
Business is good for Kennedy in the busy season and getting better in winter too. He said in August last year he had built up to 13 tours from winters’ past when business typically dried up. He thinks the work Tourism New Zealand and the local Nelson Regional Development Agency has done in marketing the off-season is behind the trend but notes not everyone is in on the act.
Only one luxury lodge stays open year round and many operators still shut up shop for the cooler months but as demand increases accommodation providers, in particular, will cotton on to the fact that they should be open.
He offers both off-the-shelf and bespoke tours and has recently introduced a “Trust the Guide” product where the visitor doesn’t know the itinerary, which he said is becoming more and more popular.
In this one, the trick is doing the transfer of the guest from the airport to their accommodation first up so you get a chance to quietly assess both their interests and fitness levels and can tailor the tour accordingly.
Being pretty much the only operator of his type, he has been approached by other firms from overseas who want him to help them set up something similar. A representative from a Chinese company recently made an inquiry of this nature, although, at present, seems to have disappeared as quickly as he emerged. Interesting thought though, Chinese businesses coming in to set up their own operations which you expect would be hugely popular with their own market.
For now, though, the art, wine and wilderness of the region is solidly Kennedy’s corner.
You can read Bridget’s previous On the Road columns in the blog section of the website.