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Customer Story: Haka Tours print Print

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Haka Tours: How a young bank employee turned his love of travel into a successful tour operator business.

Haka Tours

Ryan Sanders was never cut out to just be a cog in the wheel. Nine years ago, he was living in Manchester in the UK, and working as a recruitment manager at the Royal Bank of Scotland, responsible for 25 staff. It paid well, but wasn’t his dream career.

Ryan, a lover of snowboarding, travel, and adventure sports, knew he should be doing something he loved. So, using a template from the bank, he spent six months developing a business plan for what was to be Haka Tours.

Fast-forward to today, and Haka Tours has a fleet of 10 or so buses that travel around New Zealand, transporting high-end backpacker and private groups. The company also owns five up-market lodges, from Paihia to Queenstown.

Haka Tours has experienced high growth over the past two years off the back of customer referrals, which have doubled year on year, Ryan says. “We have really put our foot down on the pedal in the last two years.”

He recently signed a global deal with the Flight Centre, which means that agents will recommend Haka Tours to clients.

And then there are the long list of high-profile awards to Haka’s name – including beating some stiff competition to take out the Best New Zealand Tour at the 2014 Golden Backpack Awards.

Haka Tours is in an exciting growth phase, Ryan says. It hasn’t been easy, though.

Back in 2007, the business’ main asset was a 15-seater minibus. Ryan burned the midnight oil, working at the bank in the UK during the day, then overseeing bookings and his tour manager in New Zealand during his evenings, nights and weekends.

He worked 100-hour weeks while he developed his business plan. And despite having a solid plan on paper, he admits, “I didn’t know how well it was going to go.”

Still, after 18 months, Haka Tours was developing traction and getting plenty of bookings. Ryan decided it was time to return home to Christchurch, where he could be closer to the day-to-day aspects of his role.

He says the company’s main point of difference is around their business model which allows travellers to customise their tour with a range of add-ons and upgrades. This level of customisation was only possible through the development of a custom booking engine which was a 6 figure investment.

Ryan has kept a close eye on his cash flow as he has built his start-up, with support from ANZ.

“Income and cash flow are a total priority for any business. I recommend integrating your financial software, such as your booking engine or any quoting system, with accounting software, for a streamlined process. It means you don’t have to double handle the numbers.”

With help from ANZ, Ryan has set up EFTPOS and online payment systems to ensure his clients pay promptly, and has taken out business loans to help fund large projects such as the build of the Taupo Haka Lodge.

Ryan says he has a good relationship with the team from ANZ.

“Sandra MacKay from ANZ helped with Haka Tours a lot, and she spent time with me to get to know the business, and is excited about it. It’s good to have people like that around. I recently showed her around the Haka Lodge in Auckland.”

Looking ahead, Haka Tours is going to focus more on the international school market.

“Travel is a part of many international prospectuses now, which is good for us, and single bookings can often be between $80,000 to $90,000.”

Now the business is in a growth phase, Ryan says the biggest challenge is the flat hierarchy. He is seeking to employ a general manager.

“It’s exhausting having everyone reporting to me and that model isn’t scalable, plus I don’t see myself as a people manager. In an ideal world I would focus solely on the strategic side of my business.”

It’s clear this business owner has no regrets in quitting his comfortable corporate role, and turning his own business dreams into a reality.

Ryan’s tips for start-ups

  • Spend equal time and effort on your financials, people, processes and customers, so you have a “balanced” business. Often business owners spend too much time on one of these quadrants, and that can really limit a company.
  • Don’t skip the business plan. This forces you to do your homework, which is crucial in identifying gaps and opportunities in your idea.
  • Acknowledge that the start-up journey is a rollercoaster of highs and lows, and learn to ride it.

Thinking of starting your own business? Check out our starting a business infographic.

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