Q&A with TIME Unlimited Tours’ Ceillhe Sperath

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.

Why did you decide to work in tourism? Well, we never won Lotto and thought, let’s get into tourism! We met and saw a gap in the market based on our unique combined heritage and experience. It has proven a successful formula, and we have grown the business to become one of NZ’s most awarded tour operators. This is not, however, a hobby business and we need to ensure it is profitable and sustainable with innovation at the core.

Describe your career path: My first tourism role was at 13 when I was part of a new iwi initiative for Ngātiwai in Paihia selling Māori art to tourists. But I have had a varied career and been involved in many organisations as a consultant or providing volunteer services. This diversity helps when hosting a wide variety of clients. Being brought up with both Irish and Māori heritage and playing host at many marae functions has also added to the experiences that we draw on for our business.

Being in tourism cannot be learned – you either have it or you don’t. It’s more like a calling than a job.

What have been the major challenges/rewards you’ve faced in your career? We didn’t find tourism an easy industry to break into as we found it to be steeped in old business networks, and encountered those with more money and those who don’t appreciate new competition. We have battled many obstacles but we have persevered and now we have a proven sound business proposition based on treating all people with respect. We concentrate on working with industry partners who value what we have to offer and we just keep getting stronger.

Has there been a role model or any other type of inspiration that’s motivated you in your career? Neill and I have had to chart our own course. Hard work, determination, an entrepreneurial spirit and the courage to take calculated risks has seen us through some of the toughest times in NZ tourism over the past decade. We both came from other industries and both have extensive global experience but also we had families who were business people.

What are you preoccupied with at the moment at work? We named our business TIME Unlimited yet it is the one thing we never have enough of. I am preoccupied with finding quality family time.

What advice would you give women thinking about entering the industry today? Anyone can be ordinary, it’s more fun to be extraordinary – if you are going to pursue a career in tourism then start something that you know you want to be the best at!

There is always more you can learn to continuously improve yourself and the business. Surround yourself with people who you know will be honest and loving in their feedback and continually work on the net worth of your networks – this industry is all about nurturing the right relationships!

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