Sam Brough, 30, founder of Arrowtown-based subscription firm Kiwi Welcome, talks gearing up to launch his tourism venture, how lockdown inspired the firm and its global potential.
What does your business do?
Kiwi Welcome is an online membership programme and we like to say that we give visitors to Queenstown, Wanaka and Central Otago the opportunity to save money and make a difference with their holiday. What it actually is a six-months membership for $79 and that gives members access to a whole range of exclusive offers and discounts across things like accommodation, car hire, dining and activities.
We are a social enterprise and 100 per cent of Kiwi Welcome profits goes towards local, social and environmental causes in the Queenstown-Wanaka-Central Otago area so as a member the contribution can remain long after you return home. We have about 50 businesses on board and are ready to launch towards the end of the month.
We aiming for 10,000 members in our first year, which would mean over half a million dollars back to the local community and environment. Its hugely important in this Covid-19 environment and the response from local businesses around here has been overwhelmingly positive and inspiring in spite of that freight train that has come through and smashed through their business in the form of the pandemic.
What was the motivation for starting it?
It was a lockdown idea and it came from the same place I think most good ideas come from which is that combination of good problems meet good opportunity. Covid-19 was staring us in the face, especially here in Queenstown and the opportunity was being able to create a meaningful change with the skills that we have. When Covid-19 first hit there was this conversation around rethinking and re-imagining tourism and we had this idea of what if we could use tourism itself to reduce the negative impacts of tourism.
We figured there was a chunk of visitors that care about the people and place they visit more than just their own selfish holiday and all they needed was a simple mechanism to express that. We first started working on this back in April.
How big is the team?
I am working on the business full time and from the beginning it has been me and my co-founder in form of another Kiwi guy called Asher Pilbrow working on the business. I like to say I'm the ideas guy and the driving force moving the business forward, and he's more of the design wizard and that subtle nuance that we need to make this a success.
How much opportunity is there for your business?
We're targeting and talking to Kiwis because there is really no where else to go and I think it is a much more meaningful conversation to talk to New Zealanders about their own country. In the next 12 months, if we're able to prove that model can work in this region, we'd love to expand it across other parts of the country, and opening it up to international visitors because there is no reason why Switzerland, Spain or France doesn't share the same set of values and want to travel in a more thoughtful and conscious way.
This is much more like a club that you share the same values with so obviously we would hope that no matter where you go or what you do, you take that same attitude towards that new place and new people. If we are available in more places the better.
What are your long term plans?
We would love to be able to give back as much as we possibly can so if we can prove the model here, then we can stretch it to other parts of New Zealand such as Rotorua and other places across the country. Imagining one day that we do get back to a tourism industry worth $40 billion, if $1b of that actually went directly back into some of those attributes that makes tourism possible that would be hugely rewarding.
From a brand point of view, if we were able to create more meaningful conversations and connections between visitors and the local people to tell their stories at scale.
We're totally open to helicopter-ing the same model into another country. The world has gotten a lot smaller due to Covid-19 and I think we share the same values as other countries around moving away from mass tourism of the past into a new version of tourism which forces individual behaviour change.
What disruption has Kiwi Welcome faced as a result of the pandemic?
It has meant opportunity for us but we're empathetic of the fact that the businesses that we are asking to join don't exactly have nothing on their to-do list. The fluctuations in alert levels has caused serious challenges and changes within all of these businesses we work with, so we are very mindful that they might have 40 other things they need to get done before they can get to us. Without them we don't have anything.
What's been the biggest challenge setting up the business?
Gaining trust and belief from the business we are working with and showing that there is a better way for tourism and that the community and the environment can benefit from tourism, and I think that is normal when you're trying to put a new idea out into the world and asking people to change.
It depends who you talk to and what day of the week it may be, but generally speaking absolutely everyone has taken some kind of a hit and is challenged because of Covid, but there's this real mix of optimism for a brighter, better, more sustainable or different future of tourism that is purpose-driven and that comes through really strong, and that's mixed with in trepidation around long term planning and uncertainty because no one knows what's around the corner. The school holidays for this area have been a god-send and the lifeblood of tourism and we're really looking forward to the next set.
Can NZ's tourism industry thrive without international visitors?
You can have thriving businesses on different scales so it's a case of adjusting to the context we're in and it has forced them to look in the mirror and ask themselves why am I in business in the first place and that it wasn't solely to make money so let's pick our socks up and get on with this new world. That's the feeling I see.
What advice do you give to others thinking about starting their own business?
Have a clear vision of what it is you are trying to achieve and know that you can't over-sell that vision. You might think you can but you can't. Success comes down to persistence and nobody wants to see your idea change the world more than you do so you've got to put it out there and keep at it.