Incidentally, he was putting together two tours — one in February and another in early April. Do the maths. He’s a $100,000 client looking for a solution for two nights on a 12-day trip. They turned him down without a proper conversation, citing their pre-covid high season rate — an additional $200 per night — as the reason.
Here’s the point: right now, there is no high season.
Less than a month before his first trip was due to start, the same accommodation provider called and asked if he was still interested. Bear in mind that he’s organising his cycle tours six months in advance. Too late. He’d already booked in his team somewhere else.
He also tried to organise dinner for 40 people at one of Queenstown’s terrific restaurants. They never even returned his call. Or a lunch at a cafe where the emails went unanswered for over a week. I walked past that restaurant at dinner time last week. It was almost empty.
Then there was a restaurant that was keen to take his booking, provided that, on top of the 40 three-course meals and the drinks bill that goes along with that, they were paid an additional $1500 set-up fee. I suppose they needed to move some tables around!
Top sportspeople will tell you that natural talent is a part of their advantage; the rest is hard work. Natural attractions are an advantage too. But you have to work hard to maximise the benefits. Once you have built the facilities, the restaurants, the mountain bike trails and the skifields, the work is not done.
You need customers Make calls, return calls, give people what they want. Do deals and then thank people for coming. Keep in touch and invite them back. Leave nothing to chance. Do whatever it takes.
And remember this. Queenstown has become an expensive playground. While we’re encouraging Kiwis to travel the country, most families can’t afford a boat trip at $240 per head. So while our tourism venues are trying to keep their heads above water, they might also need to address their pricing. We’re not dealing with wealthy Chinese and American tourists any more. The market has changed for the foreseeable future.
Incidentally, while Queenstown is getting the publicity, they are not the hardest hit. At least they have visitors. Not as many as before, but visitors nevertheless.
In the last month I’ve been to Rotorua and Taupo, both of which feel emptier than usual. But Milford Sound and Te Anau are positively moribund. We had a holiday weekend last weekend. Despite Monday being a public holiday, Sunday night in Te Anau saw most of the restaurants closed. A number of hotels are mothballed. Tourist boats lay idle at the marina waiting for the world to change again.
But the people were so very grateful that we came. We arranged for 20 of our group to go for morning coffee in a local Te Anau cafe. The owner was so appreciative that she opened early on her day off! For 20 coffees. About $100!
So while the debate about government assistance for the tourism industry continues, in the meantime Queenstown needs to get out and sell itself to a new and hopefully temporary market. Look for business rather than waiting for it to come. Respond to anyone who sounds like a prospect. Put your best foot forward and if necessary, price the opportunity to ensure that it works.
Those of us whose businesses don’t have the support of natural wonders understand this.
It’s what we have to do. In short, Queenstown needs to learn how to hustle.
This article first appeared in the New Zealand Herald on Saturday 13 February 2021.