Rotorua tourism's high flyers

By Katie Holland

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FLYING HIGH: The natural environment is a key element of the Canopy Tours experience.PHOTO/ FILE
FLYING HIGH: The natural environment is a key element of the Canopy Tours experience.PHOTO/ FILE

IN JUST 16 months of operating, Rotorua Canopy Tours has come a long way.

More than 11,000 customers have taken the tour - zip lining through native forest at the Dansey Rd Scenic Reserve.

It's the top-ranked North Island tourist activity on travel review website Trip Advisor and has featured in numerous international and national TV, magazine and newspaper articles.

Then, last month, it won the emerging business award at the 2013 Westpac Rotorua Business Excellence Awards.

"The coolest thing about it was the staff pride," said co-founder and company director James Fitzgerald.

He recalled going into work the next day to see one of his guides posing for a photograph with some satisfied customers - and the award.

"That's what it's all about."

Mr Fitzgerald said the process forced he and fellow director Andrew Blackford to pause during what was a "relentless" time.

"It was cool to spend some time looking at the business. When you're young and growing the focus is your everyday [operations].

"It was a good opportunity to sit down and take stock of where things are."

Heading into their second summer season, things are looking pretty good.

"It's been a good start ... it's met our expectations," Mr Fitzgerald said.

"You don't go and invest in something like this and expect slow or mediocre."

Mr Fitzgerald, whose background is in tourism and marketing, said from day one the business had worked hard to promote itself.

"I like to think we do things quite different from other tourism businesses around the country."

The business does little print advertising and has a strong online marketing focus.

"You can sit and wait for five years and go broke waiting for Lonely Planet to list you or a coach to send you hundreds of people a day."

He takes particular interest in feedback from tourists who've zip lined in places such as Costa Rica and is "pretty confident" the Rotorua experience rates right up there.

"I collar those people when they come back," he laughed, adding the real test is in what they later post on review sites.

Despite all the business accolades, Mr Fitzgerald reckons the best thing has been seeing the results of the business' forest restoration. It spent $40,000 on conservation this winter alone.

"Probably the most satisfying thing for me ... has been to hear the birdlife increases [since] last spring."

Having spent two years searching for the perfect location for the tours, it's not surprising a big future goal is to keep the forest as the "magical environment" it currently is.

"We couldn't operate up there [the forest] without doing anything.

"It's our duty to repair and restore it."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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