Haka’s dream run

Tour firm’s global class­room

Sunday Star-Times - - BUSINESS - Amanda Cropp

With Hur­ri­cane Irma bear­ing down on Florida, Haka Tours founder Ryan San­ders had good rea­son to closely track the path of what proved to be a killer storm.

Over the next few weeks, his ed­u­ca­tional tourism arm has 50 Aus­tralian stu­dents headed to the Kennedy Space Cen­tre near Or­lando which mer­ci­fully es­caped the full brunt of the hur­ri­cane, so their sched­uled space camp ses­sions with re­tired as­tro­nauts are all go.

Hav­ing tapped the mar­ket for small group ad­ven­ture, moun­tain bik­ing and snow tours, Haka Tourism Group branched out into ed­u­ca­tional tours two years ago.

It of­fers a sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy tour to BMW and Audi car plants in Ger­many, and the op­por­tu­nity to walk sec­tions of the San­dakan Death March Trail and visit pris­oner of war camps in Bor­neo.

The 700 over­seas stu­dents hosted here this year can choose from a Lord of the Rings me­dia stud­ies tour, or a risk and dis­as­ter man­age­ment tour tak­ing in vol­canic ar­eas.

The long­est tour to date was a 28-day ge­ol­ogy trip for Amer­i­can PhD stu­dents. Last year, a Zim­bab­wean boys’ school 1st XV spent 16 days play­ing rugby against lo­cal schools and at­tend­ing high per­for­mance train­ing ses­sions, with a meet­ing with an All Black thrown in for good mea­sure.

San­ders said the ed­u­ca­tional tours pro­vided global spread for the 10 year-old busi­ness which has picked up 30 in­dus­try awards, four of them at the re­cent New Zealand Tourism Awards, where it was named the supreme win­ner.

With growth av­er­ag­ing 80 per cent an­nu­ally, San­ders is ex­pect­ing an­nual turnover to sur­pass $18m and the group is open­ing two new Haka ho­tels in Auck­land in ad­di­tion to its chain of five (soon to be six) up­mar­ket, back­packer lodges.

Haka will lease the new $25m, 11-storey ho­tel in Karanga­hape Road from de­vel­oper Andy Davies, and is do­ing a ma­jor re­vamp of an old ho­tel in New­mar­ket.

San­ders’ aim is to es­tab­lish a na­tional chain of the ho­tels in re­sponse to feed­back from trav­ellers want­ing to avoid back­packer dorms.

‘‘Just over half the peo­ple on our stan­dard Haka Tours up­grade to pri­vate rooms - they’ll pay an ex­tra pre­mium to not stay in dorm-style ac­com­mo­da­tion.’’

San­ders ac­knowl­edges that af­ford­abil­ity is a big chal­lenge for the ed­u­ca­tional tours, with a two week trip to a US space camp car­ry­ing a $7000 price tag for Kiwi stu­dents

‘‘We have to be re­ally care­ful about our pric­ing. There are schools that are for­tu­nate enough that they have in­ter­na­tional travel as part of their cur­ricu­lum, but the bulk of schools have to fundraise and we still have to come up with cost ef­fec­tive so­lu­tions for them.’’

That can mean stay­ing on marae or be­ing bil­leted, and Haka pro­vides ad­vice on fundrais­ing which of­ten be­gins a year in ad­vance of the trip.

All tours had com­pre­hen­sive plans to deal with dis­as­ters, nat­u­ral and oth­er­wise, San­ders said.

‘‘A lot of the un­for­tu­nate stuff hap­pen­ing in other parts of the world is in our favour be­cause we’re con­sid­ered so safe. There’s no shy­ing away from that, and it’s def­i­nitely im­por­tant.’’

But the earthquakes had proved a chal­lenge for Christchurch and some schools asked for it to be ex­cluded from their itin­er­ar­ies.

‘‘Be­ing Christchurch born and bred, I think it’s up to us to ed­u­cate the mar­ket and try to get Christchurch in­cluded once again, be­cause it has a lot to of­fer.’

Eleri Wil­liams is gen­eral man­ager of Haka’s ed­u­ca­tional tours and she said New Zealand’s var­ied land­scape was a sell­ing point.

Her team li­aises closely with schools to cus­tomise itin­er­ar­ies re­flect­ing the cur­ricu­lum and she has em­ployed a sports tourism spe­cial­ist.

‘‘With the Rugby World Cup com­ing up in Ja­pan, it’s a great des­ti­na­tion for school sports tours.’’

Wil­liams said the over­seas travel opened stu­dents’ eyes to ca­reer paths and op­por­tu­ni­ties they might never have con­sid­ered, as well as mo­ti­vat­ing them to im­prove their aca­demic per­for­mance.

‘‘I’ve had con­ver­sa­tions with teach­ers who say some of their stu­dents are com­pletely trans­formed when they re­turn to the class­room.’’

But the ben­e­fits went deeper than that. ‘‘For many stu­dents it’s the first time they’ve ever left home, a lot are from small com­mu­ni­ties and lower decile schools. They don’t even have pass­ports.

‘‘It can be life chang­ing.’’

For many stu­dents, it's the first time they have ever left home.

Haka Tourism Group owner Ryan San­ders out­side the one of the com­pany’s two new Auck­land ho­tels.

Mt Al­bert Gram­mar School stu­dents at­tend­ing a space camp in Alabama had to raise $7000 a head.

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