Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Tech can't replace human touch

For Matt Lines (left) and Sam Porter, marketing means spending lots of time overseas. Photo / Natalie Slade
For Matt Lines (left) and Sam Porter, marketing means spending lots of time overseas. Photo / Natalie Slade

Seasonz Travel is in the business of exporting New Zealand's scenery, adrenalin-pumping thrills and sumptuous luxury lodges to the world.

The high-end travel company brings wealthy tourists to experience all New Zealand has to offer, but for co-founders Sam Porter and Matt Lines the job means leaving home on up to a dozen overseas trips a year.

In a business that requires the personal touch, Porter and Lines have to go the extra mile to meet travel agents, suppliers and potential clients.

"In our particular market, being up there, there's just no substitute," says Lines.

Porter admits it can be a challenge for a new business to find the resources to get in front of international customers, but even in the age of ever-present communication technology, developing personal relationships with key players is essential.

"Probably if there is one big tip, it is you have to spend a lot of time in market," he says.

Seasonz Travel last month notched up 10 years in business.

Its business focuses on two markets - independent travellers seeking bespoke itineraries and groups travelling for major events, executive retreats or corporate incentive trips. Seasonz' 15 to 20 staff oversee every detail, down to ensuring the right number of candles is lit on a celebratory birthday cake.

Each side of the firm works independently on its specialist focus, but happy clients can create positive spin-offs and repeat business for the other team. An Australian-based chief executive, for example, could spend a long weekend with the family in Queenstown, before coming back six months later to book a corporate retreat for the executive team.

Or a client coming from the United States for a major sporting event might extend the stay by several weeks to enjoy some guided fly fishing.

North America and Europe, including Britain, are Seasonz Travel's strongest markets, with plenty of growth potential.

A key staff member who was keen to return home to Britain, plus a shift in the European market created an opening for a local office presence in the UK last year.

"There is a big opportunity in the market because it's never been so bad," says Porter.

Perversely, economic doldrums in Europe created an environment for Seasonz to establish a meaningful foothold in the market.

Porter says travel agencies have fallen by the wayside during the bad times, with good travel agents setting up on their own, shedding the contracts and allegiances that tied them to big tour operators. "When a market has not had such a good time things change in the market, so when there's change there's opportunities for new players," says Porter.

The British office can also capitalise on momentum from the 2011 Rugby World Cup, where Seasonz was among a handful of officially sanctioned travel agents, handling travel arrangements for about 7000 people over a six-week period.

Porter says a major reason for pitching for the Rugby World Cup work was the potential flow-on effect for repeat business, and the company has seen word-of- mouth growth for its business.

"The follow-up is significant and it's also opened our eyes to a lot of large events around the world," he says.

Porter and Lines headed to the America's Cup base in San Francisco to make contacts and reaffirm business connections.

"If we bring the America's Cup back here that opportunity for New Zealand is absolutely fantastic," says Porter.

- NZ Herald

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