Haka’s dream run
Tour firm’s global classroom
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.