When the options of going to uni or "doing a trade" don't appeal to the school leaver, what else is there?

A career in adventure tourism is well worth considering, says Gavin Oliver, managing director of EcoZip Adventures on Waiheke Island.

Tourism NZ is forecasting continued growth in tourism, albeit at a slower rate than in recent years.

"We've been sitting at 5 per cent growth per annum, but that kind of hockey stick-like growth isn't sustainable long term," says Oliver.

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"New Zealand is paradise and if you fill it too full of tourists, you kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

"The forecast growth now is about 2 per cent per annum and that's really important from a sustainability perspective."

At EcoZip Waiheke, visitors are treated to stunning sea views as they zip down over native forest on three ziplines, aided by two guides. The tour includes a guided walk back up through the bush and a talk about conservation efforts on the site. The company employs 12 staff, rising to 25-30 in summer.

EcoZip will open a new operation in Kaikoura towards the end of the year, employing up to 20 new staff members, and has aspirations of continued expansion once EcoZip Kaikoura is up and running.

Oliver says adventure tourism is a great option for school leavers who don't want to be stuck in an office.
"Visitors see our guides hanging off the ziplines and say, 'Is this work? What a great job!' And I think there's a massive misconception around pay rates in tourism. For years tourism and hospitality have been bundled together and hospo generally does have lower pay rates than tourism, so average pay rates can seem quite low. I can't speak for other tourism businesses, but all our guides on permanent contracts are paid above the living wage and even our junior guides are paid well above the minimum wage. Then, once people start moving into management, the salaries really are comparable with other industries."

Oliver says the job suits a "people person" who is enthusiastic and has an outgoing personality.

"Also, the ability to park whatever's going on in your private life and be able to switch it on. That's really important, because it might be our guests' first experience of New Zealand and we want them to leave thinking 'wow'. It's also about attention to detail, because what we do is so safety focused and there are no shortcuts. New guides undertake an intensive two-week training course and some don't make it through. Because of the safety aspect, it's either pass or fail."

Life and career skills to be gained from adventure tourism include resilience, teamwork, maturity, dependability, confidence and interpersonal skills, says Oliver.

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"Resilience, because with some tour groups you get very little back, but you still need to do your job. Teamwork and dependability are big ones — you rely on each other so much. And you really see the increase in confidence and interpersonal skills. They're often quite reticent at first and they stand back and let somebody else lead the gear-up or the bush walk, but after a while they're pushing people out of the way to be at the front. You see these young people blossom and they're just brilliant to be around."

Oliver says a growing tourism business offers great opportunities for career progression.

"For example, Stacey Scott joined us as a tour guide and moved on to supervising guides and now she's our operations manager. Soon she'll be flying back and forth to Kaikoura to train a new team. The level of responsibility has increased massively and the remuneration has gone hand in hand with that. And the skills are transferable, so you could start with us and five years later be running a gondola at Ruapehu."

Formal qualifications can be studied at the NZ School of Tourism, and Queenstown Resort College runs an adventure tourism course. But Oliver says tourism employees moving into management don't necessarily need tertiary qualifications.

"Although we're seeing the rise of digital, the basic skills — being able to work your way around Excel, construct an email and write a proposal — are still really important. Coming out of high school with a decent clutch of NCEAs, especially in English and maths, is often all that's required. I think a willingness to learn is the most important thing, and being openminded."

Oliver says one of the things he loves about working with his young employees is they're not shrinking violets.

"If they have a good idea, they'll come and tell you. My generation wouldn't have banged on the boss's door and said "we should do this", but they will, and it's brilliant. Some of our best developments have come from people on the front line."