Following the retirement of founders Chris and Sue Jolly, son Simon and his wife Katie are buying Taupo’s Chris Jolly Outdoors. Simon Jolly tells the Ticker of his plans, the launch of the operator’s cultural tours and why the region has even more to offer than its beautiful lake.
Taupo is only 40 minutes drive from Rotorua and it has its own rich, deep Māori culture and history but I don’t think it is as accessible in Taupo itself in a way that allows visitors to come and experience it. Our Taurikura Māori Cultural Scenic Cruise is something that we want to build upon and hopefully we will get the sort of response from customers that will allow us to do that.
We have worked with local iwi for the past 30 years so have always had a close relationship. Our cultural group is connected to the local te reo Māori school so its a great opportunity for them to create something that will benefit both themselves and us. For us, it’s an opportunity to let people know the Māori history of Lake Taupo, not just its European or geological histories.
Both my parents have now retired and Katie and I have decided to buy Chris Jolly Outdoors off them. It was a natural progression for us and comes at a time when we want to put a stake in the sand and get stuck into it. I grew up in the business and got my skippers ticket as soon as I turned 18 so I’ve been commercially driving vessels for nearly 22 years both here and overseas.
Although the business and the industry are doing well at the moment, the biggest change we have noticed in the past few years is probably around compliance. We have seen a massive increase in expense and that is hard for a small business to absorb. We probably operate under five or six different regimes such as maritime, Department of Conservation, land transport, food and local council – that is a lot of time and energy and costs.
The maritime industry alone has undergone real upheaval in the past three years, which, for example, has seen reporting requirements for the engineers who survey our boats practically double their workload. That all adds up and has an effect on the bottom line but at the end of the day you just have to deal with it and move forward.
We do have a broad range of products. If we include our corporate charter work, the scenic cruises, the fly fishing and hunting, cycling and hiking, then our product manual becomes around 30-pages deep. We’re victims of our own imaginations to an extent but the reason we have a broad range is because people enjoy them and they have evolved out of people asking for them.
The cruises are probably a third of our business at the moment and are growing. We have five vessels and we would like to grow that side of the business even more in the months ahead.
Because Taupo does not have an international airport it hasn’t gone through the sort of boom we have seen recently in places like Queenstown, Rotorua or Auckland. That actually has worked alright for Taupo though as people who haven’t been able to get into those places have come to Taupo instead.
We have seen very good growth in the high-end FIT market in the past three years and our corporate market is heading up too but we are also seeing big growth in the Asian market, whether from China or Korea. But it is that high-end market that has really been noticeable, particularly from North America with new air routes being opened to there.
We work very closely with Destination Great Lake Taupo, which has been behind some very good promotions of the region. It would be nice if they had more funding – they don’t get anywhere near as much as they deserve, especially as tourism is now New Zealand’s number one industry. We do a lot of famil work with them and Tourism New Zealand hosting the major travel agents from around the world.
Because we have a lot of different products targeting a lot of markets, it does make marketing a little bit interesting for us. We have a presence in all of our major markets with all of our outbound partners. Domestically, we attend shows like TRENZ although I am not sure if we will be in Dunedin next year. TRENZ is probably our biggest marketing expense and Dunedin would probably be even more so for us right now.
Taupo is not a simple place to set up a tourism operation. When it comes to the lake, you are restricted by the size of the marina, you must have a good working relationship with local iwi, and you just do not get the volume of tourists that other places attract. That means there has not been the growth in new operators that maybe other parts of the country has seen. Some of us here have been working together in the industry for 30 years – in fact, our relationship with Huka Lodge goes back that far and they are a very close partner.
Looking ahead, we want to really develop the back-country experiences here in the region, that is, meeting the growing demand from people to be where few other tourists are. We have some very good products in place to cater for that.
The most important thing for me is to be able to put the business in a position to be able to recognise opportunities and be able to act upon them to grow. I think we’re headed in the right direction.