Q&A with White Island Tours’ Jenny Tait

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.

Why did you decide to work in tourism? It was a vacation turned vocation, we just loved being on the sea. My husband loved boats and I loved White Island. We started showing people the island in 1990 and saw that they loved it too so it just grew from there. Before that though I was a lab technologist, fascinated with science, so a big change.

What have been the major challenges and rewards you’ve faced in your career? I think one of the biggest challenges for us has been being out on a limb here in Whakatane. We’re not on the tourist path and the local council has not been tourism-focused at all until recently. We’re an hour from Tauranga and an hour from Rotorua so we’re not on the tourist route. In the motel and café side of the business staffing is a real issue too.

Has there been a role model or any other type of inspiration that’s motivated you in your career? Yes, Ray Woolliams who started up Hells Gate in Rotorua and is an ex-mayor of that town, because when we started people thought we were mad and there wasn’t a lot of support, but he always said good on you, give it a go, and was very supportive.

What are you preoccupied with at the moment at work? We’re coming off the busy season so really we’re analysing how it’s gone and then we’ll start planning for next season, what can we do better, what can we do during winter, staffing. It’s been a record summer but numbers-wise and weather-wise, we’ve been very lucky in our region we’ve had a great run with the weather.

What advice would you give women thinking about entering the industry today? Go for it but don’t be too sensitive. You have to have a bit of a thick skin now with social media. Because we’re just a small team sometimes comments can hurt whereas if you’re a bigger company you maybe have methods of dealing with it. So, you do take it personally when probably you shouldn’t do.

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