International Women’s Day: Women on tourism’s frontline

To mark International Women’s Day, the Ticker talks to ten women operators who are making their mark on New Zealand’s tourism industry. Whether it’s bungying off bridges, swimming with stingrays, or managing multi-million dollar ventures, it’s obvious women play not just a vital but an inspiring role in tourism.

As we compiled the list below we realised it was less a list of ‘top women’ and more a list of ‘top adventurers’ who have managed to turn a love for travel, exploration and experiences into work they’re passionate about and proud of. It’s a small, but we believe typical, sample of the women working in NZ’s tourism industry.

We’ll publish each interview individually over the following days.


Kerry Kettle

Kerry Kettle, New Zealand Fine Touring

Wanaka-based Kerry Kettle is the co-founder and owner of New Zealand Fine Touring Group which specialises in customized self-drive and coach tours. In November it bought two Auckland-based tour operations, Discover New Zealand and Thrifty Tours New Zealand. The acquisition put the group on track to book annual turnover of more than $30m this financial year. NZFT now has 31 staff with further growth on the cards.

Title: Owner

Job description: Oversee the finance and staffing for our company

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job? When guests come into our office and rave about the wonderful holiday they are having especially when they are repeat visitors.

What is the toughest part of your job? Forecasting what is going to happen next and having the right amount of resource in place to deal with it. Planning is so important, often things happen which are out of our control, so it’s a matter of dealing with these situations ensuring our guests are happy, no matter what.

What is the biggest challenge facing tourism today? NZ tourism is getting busier each year and there is limited accommodation in the peak season, so finding space for our guest is our biggest challenge at the moment.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? Not sure on just one thing: spread the high season so it is more consistent throughout the year, remove cents and round everything to the nearest dollar, being able to confirm reservations over the weekend, not just Monday to Friday, or offer an instant online solution.


Bridget Legnavsky

Bridget Legnavsky, Cardrona Alpine Resort

Bridget Legnavsky is the general manager of Cardrona Alpine Resort which in recent year’s has been blazing a trail in terms of NZ skifield’s developing their summer offer. Winter is still the main event with the resort undergoing $15m of investment to construct NZ’s first cabin-style lift in time for the 2017 season.

Title: General Manager

Job description:  Sit back and chillax while an awesome team run Cardrona and drive it into the future.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job? Working with an incredibly positive team who just want to learn and keep getting better. The pride of what we have achieved and where we are heading in the future.

What is the toughest part of your job? Fomo (fear of missing out).

What is the biggest challenge facing tourism today? Balancing the cost of investment required to keep up with the growth and expectations of people. People come to New Zealand expecting quiet, calm and space but in a lot of places we are becoming crowded. Clearly, this is great for the short-term but we need to think sustainably and not be naïve enough to think we will get away with this.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? More honest, open collaboration so that we can make the whole New Zealand experience exceptional. If we could all think really big on this we would offer our visitors more consistency and an overall much better experience.


Ceillhe Sperath

Ceillhe TeWhare TeNeti Hema Sperath, TIME Unlimited Tours 

Ceillhe Sperath is the co-founder and director of Auckland-based Time Unlimited Tours which offers excursions around Auckland – and further afield – as well as Maori cultural tours. In 2016 it won a National Geographic World Legacy Award for Sense of Place.

Title: KaiTohu – Co-Founder & Director along with my husband Neill Sperath

Job description: As with any family businesses we are everything from the operations, admin to the IT department – having spent my fair share of life in a corporate office environment there are things that you don’t miss and the freedom to determine our own destiny is liberating!

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job? Sharing our  “Everyday’’ with manuhiri and ensuring every person leaves a raving fan of our country, cultures, cuisine, cityscapes and coastlines and, most importantly, our meaningful two-way conversations about life in Aotearoa and our place in the world. I like the fact our business is home based as we can put our family first and balance things with the normal pressures of being busy parents.

What is the toughest part of your job? Realising others in tourism don’t share the same work ethic and high standards, as well as respecting everyone has a valid role in tourism collaborating rather than being overly competitive.

What is the biggest challenge facing tourism today? Attracting people from other industries that bring energy, knowledge, and skill of best practice to the industry. The best host-guides are often not from the industry or who have necessarily completed tourism training. The best guides have a genuine love of being of service to our domestic and international visitors and who are true ambassadors for our way of life and giving people their best time in NZ.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? That sustainable tourism is given more weight as it can be a great collaboration that we don’t need to compete on. If we only realised without everyone working to look after our environment then we would not have tourism in the first place. This stems from the fact that people in the industry at all levels need to treat each other as equally well or better than their clients. The Whakatauki ‘he aha te me nui o te ao – he tangata, he tangata, he tangata! – it is people that is the most important thing in this world and that should form a common code of conduct observed at all levels of the industry.


Tash Lawrence

Tash Lawrence, AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand

Tash Lawrence has worked for AJ Hackett New Zealand since she was majoring in tourism at AUT 11 years ago. She was the pioneering tourism company’s first female jump-master in Auckland and has been Auckland sales manager for coming up four years.

Title: Sales manager

Job description:  Sales, contracts, agents, relationships, media, conferences & incentives, groups, education.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job? That’s easy – the people. Creating the moment that people are never going to forget. Bungy and Skywalk for example are ultimately all about are just having that moment for that few seconds they are the hero so when you actually pull that off and they walk away going “that was awesome” then all your hard work is worth it.

What is the toughest part of your job? Perception. Convincing people that the activity you are promoting is, in fact, safe and achievable because people assume they can’t do it. Half my time is spent convincing people they can do it or convincing agent’s their clients can do it. America is one of our biggest demographics but that demographic is 40+ in age.

What is the biggest challenge facing tourism today? Capacity. Auckland is a good example of where we don’t have enough room nights at the value which supplies the type of traveller we need. So, at particular times of the year there is a real shortage in particular types of accommodation, that pushes the price up which changes the type of traveller that we get and that changes a lot of the work we have done in market or how we actually engage with those people – or whether they come at all. They may no longer have the disposable income to spend on our activities.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? It would be genius if the whole industry was on the same booking mechanism but I don’t think that’s actually possible. Another thing I would like would be more control of the digital and social and media world. It develops so quickly and you have little-to-no control over it. For example, you can invest a lot of time and money invested into an online platform or a social media campaign and a month later it’s obsolete because the newest thing has just come out.


Kat Van Dijk

Kat Van Dijk, JUCY

Kat Van Dijk entered tourism relatively recently when she joined JUCY just over four years ago. She is GM Southern Lakes at what was originally a car rental company which has expanded into campervans, cruise and hotels. It is described as a tourism business with one clear goal and that is to be a major international brand.

Title: GM Southern Lakes

Job description: I’m responsible for overseeing, leading and continually growing the Southern Lakes Regional strategy and securing future business opportunities that drive performance and profitability. In addition, I’m responsible for overseeing the Asian market through the effective development and delivery of the Asian sales and marketing strategy for JUCY Group.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job? I love that no day is the same, variety is the spice of life and I get that on a daily basis – it suits my character and personality. I love how JUCY operates outside the corporate box. We believe in a life less ordinary and it doesn’t get much better than being responsible for delivering tourists holiday solutions that give them the green light to have the time of their lives!

What is the toughest part of your job? With having such ambitious growth strategies, growth pains are inevitable. As most of us experience, time waits for no-one and that can be challenging when there’s so much to do – it’s an exciting issue to have though.

What is the biggest challenge facing tourism today? Coping with the massive growth in tourist numbers – in terms of infrastructure, quality of experience and delivering on our 100% Pure NZ proposition.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? Personally, I’m struggling to find fault, especially when most operators are experiencing massive growth. Unlike other industries, tourism has a lot of support networks such as Tourism Export Council, Tourism New Zealand and the Backpacker Youth and Adventure Tourism Association. There’s so much information at our fingertips – the key is how we decipher and utilise that data to best support our growth strategies.


Jenny Tait

Jenny Tait, White Island Tours

Jenny Tait and her husband Peter started tours to White Island in 1990 with a single boat ferrying six passengers at a time from Whakatane. Today, their business operates four vessels taking up to 350 people a day to the volcanic island. Over the years the business has added a hotel and a cafe meaning Tait has a foot in all three of tourism’s major sectors: activities, accommodation and hospitality.

Title:  Director

Job description: Finance and projects

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?:  Seeing the boats come home each day and watching the staff say goodbye to the happy passengers.

What is the toughest part of your job? Human Resources – so, we have tried to stand back from it and employ people who are better at it than us.

What is the biggest challenge facing tourism today? Controlling media, both local and social media. Work is done with both to promote the business, but within NZ the media are always quicker to find fault rather than good in a story.

Social media tends to be very one-sided and, as a company, it is often the first we hear of dissatisfaction. It doesn’t give us the opportunity to talk an issue through or rectify a problem before it is posted worldwide.


Tania Stoyanof

Tania Stoyanof, Black Label Experience

Tania Stoyanof has spent most of her working career managing start-up ventures or campaigns, whether it was Xtra’s or The NZ Herald’s new digital media offerings or helping to formulate Tourism New Zealand’s luxury strategy. Today, her relatively new business, Black Label Experience, is offering bespoke, unique New Zealand experiences for the global elite.

Title: Founder/Owner

Job description:  Managing Director

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job? Starting from scratch two years ago with just an idea, shaping it into a business and watching how this has evolved and is taking on a life of its own, and being ‘in market’ with very limited resources or any help/advice from the industry bodies to achieve this.

Almost every week there is a small win, to keep me going, which is also testimony and evidence that my efforts and ideas to build awareness of my brand, raise my profile and credibility of my luxury tourism business, Black Label, to a very niche market is working and is reaching the target audience.

What is the toughest part of your job? Being a start -up business owner working almost entirely alone is challenging and can be a lonely and at times an unrewarding job. The long unpaid hours, staying focused, quelling the self doubt, staying on track with my plans and keeping my eye on the prize almost every single day takes a lot of mental fortitude.

I also have so many ideas which are impossible to execute when resources are extremely limited and when I am working at maximum capacity and bandwidth and feeling I am missing opportunities.

What is the biggest challenge facing tourism today? For NZ, protecting landmarks and attractions which make it one of the most desired countries in the world to visit, for example, our glaciers are melting due to global warming. Good examples of the negative impact of natural disasters on destinations like the Christchurch earthquake and more recently Kaikoura in particular where the locals and local economy rely a lot on tourism. Also, external factors such as political or economic instability. When this hits, people are less likely to spend money on luxury items such as travel.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? A reasonable and fair visitor tax which could raise revenue for the local economy with a percentage going back into growing tourism, improving infrastructure for tourism rather than putting the financial burden on ratepayers or government. It could also provide a special fund earmarked for day-to-day help such as free mentoring, resources (people) and investment into new businesses to help them get up and running and to develop their identified opportunities which will put them and NZ on the map.


Chris Savage

Chris Savage, Dive Tatapouri

Title: Owner Operator

Chris Savage started in tourism in the late 1980s at Rainbow & Fairy Springs, went travelling and then returned to a desk job in insurance. But the lure of  adventure proved too strong and, along with her husband Dean, started boat tours off Tatapouri in Gisborne 17 years ago. Today, their cruises offer the unique opportunity of swimming with stingrays – the only product of its type in New Zealand.

Job description:  Hahaha sorry should not laugh –  anything and everything – as an owner/operator you’re the face and contact of your business.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?  Being self-employed and being able to meet so many different people from all around the world and New Zealand

What is the toughest part of your job? Having to keep up with the paper work when the sun is shining and customers are calling as that is what generates the money to keep the business running.

What is the biggest challenge facing tourism today? All the regulations and the increased costs around that. Also, finding good staff to take on some of the roles in the business. Not a lot of young people are coming through and as we are seasonal, if we get good staff, we lose them to full-time work that they may find in the winter months.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?  Reduction of red tape and costs associated with that to allow new operators into the tourism industry. A lot are scared off before they even start with a vision that they may have.


Lynette Buurman

Lynette Buurman, Dolphin Encounter & Albatross Encounter Kaikoura

Lynette Buurman came to tourism from a business background and, along with her husband Dennis, bought a share in their tourism operation. An experienced traveller she is using all of her skills and knowledge now to guide her business through the recovery following the Kaikoura earthquake.

Title: Business Partner

Job description: Business Manager – Marketing & Finance

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job? I would have to say being part of a vibrant industry and also seeing very satisfied customers enjoying unique experiences in our beautiful country.

What is the toughest part of your job?  That is a difficult question – I think finding enough time to manage my “wish list” of ideas. Tourism allows you to take an idea and develop it into a business opportunity and the ideas don’t stop coming!

What is the biggest challenge facing tourism today? Keeping up with the changes in the way we do business and making sure we are reaching our target audience effectively.

On a personal level, the most recent one is, of course, the 14 November 2016 earthquake. The impact of the quake was devastating and challenging on so many fronts. How many risk management plans include an uplift in the sea bed and what this will mean for business continuity? I think we have faced unprecedented challenges for our business with this event.

So, recovering from the earthquake and getting the business back to trading at its best is the current focus. This will take some time because so much of what we need is outside of our immediate control so we are remaining as positive and upbeat as possible while we wait for the progress that we need.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? To be able to influence a consistently high level of customer service across the whole of the tourism industry and this would ensure that every customer would feel that they were valued and appreciated for choosing to take their holiday in New Zealand.


Trish Abrahamson

Trish Abrahamson, Naturally NZ Holidays

After starting her business in 1997, Trish Abrahamson has turned Naturally NZ Holidays into one of the best respected ITOs in the country. From personalised itineraries for the FIT market to guiding groups of 100+ through all the experiences NZ has to offer, Abrahamson has seen the industry grow and transform.

Title: Managing Director

Job description:  Anything and everything. Being a small business I am involved from the smallest to the biggest tasks.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?  Feedback both good and bad and feeling proud of the itineraries that go out of our office.

What is the toughest part of your job?  Too high a workload. Working in and not on the business. It is 365 days a year.

What is the biggest challenge facing tourism today?  Managing people around capacity. A lack of new ‘commercial’ beds.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?  There’s a perceived lack of a career path. And increasing pay rates – tourism is still a low paid industry.

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