BREAKING BUSINESS BARRIERS
AOTEA/GREAT BARRIER ISLAND HAS A UNIQUE STORY AND CHARACTER WHICH LOCAL ENTERPRISES BENEFIT FROM – AND NOW TRAINING IN SOCIAL MEDIA AND DIGITAL MARKETING IS SET TO GENERATE MORE BUSINESS.
Great Barrier Island has a unique story and character which local enterprises benefit from – and now a special training programme is set to generate more business.
Starting a small business and progressing it to a sustainable level anywhere in New Zealand is a tough ask. But when you set out to establish your venture on Aotea/Great Barrier Island, about 100 kilometres (30 minutes by air) north-east of Auckland, the odds against your success are even higher.
The number of permanent residents is around the 1,000 mark (boosted by up to 4,000 bach owners and tourists in the summer).
Approximately half the land mass is under DOC management. The median income level is the lowest in Auckland and (many believe) in the country.
The island has no reticulated power or water. Therefore no street lighting, ATMs, traffic lights, supermarket, or even a high school. Power is self-generated – increasingly solar, which means you don’t leave those activities dependent on electricity until later in the day. And your next morning could start with a cold shower.
As an entrepreneur you must look at what some might regard as negatives, as an opportunity. The Internet meets current needs and while there are inevitable terrain-related blackspots, mobile communications are reliable. There is a ‘digital bridge’ to the mainland and the world.
Great Barrier Island has moved on from the days when it was once stigmatised as a retreat from the world. Resilience, a strong community spirit (volunteering is the default setting) and caution remain the norm, however. As does creativity and exploiting the lack of ambient light at night; the healing power of stillness; good soil for organic food; a market for dairyfree ice cream and the challenge of air and land transport for tourists and locals, amongst other pursuits.
The above scenario provides a cross-section of those who have been drawn into a social media and digital marketing programme initiated by a dynamic, allegedly-retired, Gendie Somerville-Ryan – a former marketing, cultural change and strategic positioning regional and global executive with PwC – along with financial assistance from NZ Trade and Enterprise and support from ATEED’s John Carr.
“A lack of discretionary funds caused us to look specifically at social media for marketing and promotion. For many, that was a challenge and a leap into new technology,” says Somerville-Ryan. “But it has proven to be inspired. We were fortunate to secure the services of Wanita Zoghby-Fourie from The Online Business Academy, an NZTE-approved Training Provider and mentor in the discipline.”
Somerville-Ryan is a trustee of Destination Aotea/Great Barrier Island which “seeks to enhance the visitor experience and promote the Island as a desirable destination”. Along with her husband Richard and a consultant astronomer, Nayalini Davies, she helped secure an official Dark Sky Sanctuary classification for the Island in May last year – one of only four in the world and the only island to have that status. (Two are in US national parks and another in Chile).
“On any given night our visitors can see roughly ten times more stars than someone in Auckland. We’re told by international visitors that we have the darkest and most pristine conditions for viewing.”
Deborah Kilgallon and Hilde Hoven are owner-directors of Good Heavens, a company with not only a great name, but a clever slogan: “Look up and get lost”. You can book for a group tour, or they will come to your approved residence with their eight-inch telescope and deliver a personal viewing for you (“Heavens Above”), and add a chef-catered meal to the whole experience (“Dining with the Stars”).
“Viewings from the beach, where you can see the Milky Way rise out of the ocean are much in demand. And you can understand why when 90 percent of US city residents and 80 percent in European cities can’t see the Milky Way, or barely see stars. We just love being in an enterprise which is so in touch with nature,” says Kilgallon.
“Coaching from Wanita has seen us implement a new website with a proper booking system to carry the customer experience from online to offline. We have looked at our branding and are working on our social media channels as we know this is fundamental to growing a savvy business,” says Hoven.
Vicky Kyan’s business Wellbeing Wanders is based on ancient Japanese “Forest Bathing” and is another blending with the island’s natural beauty – up in the hills or down on the shore. The Nature and Forest Therapy guide and trainer’s three-hour walks are usually less than a kilometre as participants “practice reciprocity” and “appreciate and celebrate life in all its forms to reach peace and ease with ourselves”.
“I love the controlled cooperation Wanita has injected into a onceisolated SME community, which tended only to collaborate in crisis, reports Kyan. “Now we interlink and network to grow sustainably, all the time.”
“Vicky was a technophobe when she started the training,” says ZoghbyFourie. “The learning and encouragement has seen Vicky’s skill level shift to understanding and implementing a real online strategy to attract stressed business owners who want to get back in touch with nature.”
Somerville-Ryan points to that dichotomy as being typical of the experience and adaptability Zoghby-Fourie has brought to her training and mentoring of the island-community’s entrepreneurs. “Wanita has been a great fit with people who are used to working on their own and not asking for help. We are all very aware of the special challenges and potential
limitations of our situation. She has blended all these individuals to operate as a community of entrepreneurs, rather than a collection of individuals.
Nick Pearson, CEO of Barrier Air has led a big shift in the vital link to the island.
“The days of ‘romance’ are over,” he says. “We have moved to sophistication; the likes of glass cockpits – the envy of several airline pilots who’ve flown with us – aand an emphasis on safety.
“I cut the fleet from ssix aircraft to two Cessna turboprop Grand Caravans and have a third on order.orde These allow us to fly at 7,000 ft. The routing we take, too, means in the uunlikely event of engine failure we can glide to land at all times.
“I know our audience is on social media – using platforms like Instagram to build our brand and tell oour story. We are working collectively with the ‘Social Media for Great Barrier’ and are amazed that a simple social media post can reach 15,000 people and have more than 4,500 interactions within a day.
“I believe we should targett those environmentally-conscious travellers who will respect what we have here, as they engage with nature, do yoga and mindfulness in a forest,for or kayak out to appreciate the dolphins,” says Pearson.
Somerville-Ryan and her team at Destination Aotea/Great Barrier Island already have a ‘ResponsResponsible Visitors Pledge’ on the drawing boards too.
HAPPY PEOPLE WELCOME WELCOM
Sue Whaanga (it means ‘calm harbour’, which many say she is) worked her way into taking over AoteaAot Car Rental from a generous former employer who reckoned she’d earnedearn a reasonable price for her commitment. That has guided her own business ethics. But don’t arrive at the island’s airport and hope to get a vehicle if yyou haven’t pre-booked.
“Visitors booking our vehicles want to ‘blend into the island’ and truly get away. We don’t have brabranded vehicles. It’s a strategic decision we’ve made. The vehicles are not the latest models, but they are well-maintained.”
She also provides the school buses and shuttles. Further continuity is built in with her daughter now in the business. When looking back to the days when she answered the phone and juggled reservations, the new world of online booking, social media andan proactive marketing is “far less stressful”.
“We’re looking into hahaving electric bikes for hire and depending on how that goes, we will be into electric vehicle hire in the foreseeable future. That’s all part of our coordinatecoordinated marketing message, after all. We utilise our worm farms, car-wash water ininto special pits, and any oil is scooped into buckets,” says Whaanga, who mainmaintains she’s in business to meet happy people.
(L-R): GENDIE SOMMERVILLE-RYAN, JANENE HUNSDALE, WANITA ZOGHBY-FOURIE, DEBORAH KILGALLON AND HER SON, NICK PEARSON, VICKY KYAN, HILDE HOVEN, SUE WHAANGA AND CAITY ENDT.