Making the most of marine mission
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.