Mak­ing the most of marine mis­sion

Travel Digest - - INTERVIEW - — Lor­raine Thom­son

Marine tourism is go­ing through a rapid rise and one New Zealand com­pany mak­ing the most of the rise in the Aus­tralian and Fijian mar­kets is Marine Tourism Man­age­ment. Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the com­pany Chris Ja­cobs, along with fel­low ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Roger Dold, have a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence in the marine tourism arena, hav­ing cut their teeth with Fullers in the Bay of Is­lands.

“We owned Fullers in the Bay of Is­lands, hav­ing pur­chased the com­pany from the re­ceivers in 1989 and we owned this for 17 years,” says Chris.

Sev­eral years later the pair set up Marine Tourism Man­age­ment and cur­rently own and man­age five brands – South Sea Cruises [Fiji], Blue La­goon Cruises [Fiji], Awe­some Ad­ven­tures [Fiji], Cruise Whit­sun­days [Aus­tralia] and Awe­some Whit­sun­days [Aus­tralia].

The com­pany is not look­ing for any new brands at the mo­ment, but does have some new prod­uct ideas.

The big­gest op­er­a­tion is in Fiji with 300 staff. In the Whit­sun­days there is a fur­ther 200 staff. Head of­fice for the com­pany is in Auck­land where there is a team of 15.

“Roger and I both work from home, but sales and mar­ket­ing are in Taka­puna.”

Be­tween them they are re­spon­si­ble for 1.2 mil­lion pas­sen­ger move­ments a year, with 16 ves­sels. Most ves­sels are pur­pose­built in Aus­tralia and they cur­rently have a 30-me­tre ves­sel un­der con­struc­tion. The com­pany strat­egy has been to buy tired busi­nesses and re­jig them.

Asked about chal­lenges for the com­pany, Chris says: “Over the years it has been the huge shift in tourism num­bers. With the Bay of Is­lands and Whit­sun­days it was build­ing up vis­i­tor num­bers to those re­gions. They were too small. We took an ac­tive role in the des­ti­na­tion mar­ket­ing and on tourism boards,” says Chris, who also chaired Tourism Whit­sun­days.

“A lot was about mar­ket­ing into new des­ti­na­tions and get­ting air­line links. In Fiji there has been na­tional coos and cy­clones, but over the years in­creas­ingly tourism has be­come re­silient, bounc­ing back faster each time.”

The re­cent Cy­clone Winston in Fiji has af­fected Marine Tourism Man­age­ment less than the last Cy­clone Evan in 2012.

“We have a cou­ple of re­sorts closed in Fiji, with Sher­a­ton Tokoriki hav­ing re­ceived quite a bit of dam­age. With the pre­vi­ous cy­clone, De­na­rau Is­land was af­fected a lot more.”

The in­vest­ment in the Whit­sun­days has brought the most growth.

“Ear­lier this year we took over op­er­at­ing the trans­fer ves­sels from Hamil­ton Is­land to Hay­man Re­sort. We re­fur­bished two of our ves­sels into su­per yacht style.”

The emer­gence of the Chi­nese mar­ket has fu­elled this growth.

“China has now be­come our num­ber one mar­ket in the Whit­sun­days and num­ber two in Fiji.”

Marine tourism is an all-year-round busi­ness, with the big­gest surge over the Chi­nese New Year. The largest vis­i­tor num­bers over­all are com­ing from the Aus­tralian mar­ket, fol­lowed by China and then New Zealand.

The Whit­sun­days, says Chris, is a per­fect des­ti­na­tion, but the pri­mary ob­sta­cle is air con­nec­tions.

“I would al­ways like to see more flights. I think the Whit­sun­days has more po­ten­tial with New Zealan­ders – and di­rect flights would help. Var­i­ous char­ter flights from New Zealand and China have been talked about, but haven’t come to fruition.”

Look­ing ahead, marine tourism is look­ing strong for both des­ti­na­tions.

“We are see­ing good growth in all mar­kets, although the back­packer mar­ket is slow­est.”

Blue La­goon Cruises, which Marine Tourism Man­age­ment took over two and a half years ago, has seen 40 to 60 per cent in­creases each month over the past year.

“The prod­uct needed a com­plete makeover with more fo­cus on itin­er­ar­ies, more en­gage­ment with Fijian peo­ple and more mar­ket­ing.”

Mean­while, af­ter spend­ing six years liv­ing in the Whit­sun­days, Chris has re­lo­cated back to New Zealand and now calls Wai­heke Is­land home. He likes liv­ing in a small com­mu­nity and be­ing near a beach.

“Wai­heke was hav­ing a real boom just as we ar­rived. Dur­ing the week the in­ter­na­tional tourists ar­rive and it is in­ter­est­ing watch­ing how the lo­cal com­mu­nity deals with it.”

On Wai­heke Chris tells me he in­her­ited 1,000 vines when he bought his house and so he is now get­ting into wine mak­ing.

Marine Tourism Man­age­ment ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Chris Ja­cobs.

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