Seeing a gap in the market is one thing, taking advantage of it is another, but Bay of Islands Tours Ltd, the latest recipient of a $30,000 Top Energy business development grant, has done just that, and very successfully.

Co-founders and sole directors Matthew Barnett and Chloe Van Dragt, both Paihia locals, recognised that there was so much more to see and do in the region than was currently on offer.

They knew the growing cruise ship market wanted more streamlined tours to fit in with visit schedules, and that travellers were increasingly on the lookout for a more intimate group touring experience.

In 2015 they launched three tours, from three to six hours in length, and unique in the market, quickly capturing the interest of tourism operators, cruise ships and travellers, who would not normally spend their money in the region.


That year they received a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, with another this year.
Ms Van Dragt said their success came down to having a clear vision for the business, coupled with drive and passion to be the best in the industry and showcase all that the Far North had to offer.

"We are in a competitive business," she said.

"Our aim is to grow our share of the market as much as possible, knowing that we invest 100 per cent of our company revenue back into the local economy. We live locally and only employ local residents as drivers."

The growth strategy was simple: to provide a great experience, to continue reaching out to national and international agents to get tours listed, to be active on social media and to focus on search engine optimisation to drive inquiries.

They had invested in a live booking system so direct customers, operators and travel agents were able to book and pay for their trips at any time of day or night, and all tour vehicles carried mobile eftpos machines to remove the stress associated with handling cash.

Their success had created an issue or two though.

"Although our current yard in Opua is great, our business is growing, and so is our tour fleet," Mr Barnett said.

"We need a well-equipped wash bay to efficiently clean our vehicles after each use, and a facility that mobile mechanics can use to tend our vehicles in when they need attention."


In addition to helping set up the new yard, the Top Energy grant would help fund the purchase and signwriting of two new vehicles, providing their drivers with training and uniforms, and enable them to make two fulltime and four part-time offers of employment.
Top Energy chief executive Russell Shaw said he was amazed every year by the calibre and commitment of local businesses and entrepreneurs to maximising the talent and potential of the Far North.

"Bay of Islands Tours' business plan and their commitment to investing in the Far North economy made their application stand out from the rest," he said.

"As a community-owned business it is a privilege for Top Energy to assist in supporting local businesses like theirs to achieve success and growth."

Top Energy launched the business development fund in 2014, with the aim of encouraging and promoting economic growth in the Far North.

Grants of up to $30,000 are awarded twice a year for local business ideas or initiatives that have the potential to grow or diversify the district's economy, in one sum for a single stand-out idea or in smaller amounts for several initiatives, depending on the number, quality and merit of the applications received.

For more information on the business development fund go to