With stunning mountains, white sand beaches, lakes and rivers, New Zealand is renowned the world over for its outstanding scenic beauty. But once visitors arrive for that holiday of a lifetime, how do they ensure that they’re really getting under the skin of the country and seeing the best of what’s there? Cue a bespoke travel agency, such as Southern Crossings, which, for the last 32 years, has been creating itineraries from scratch. “The company’s ethos was based on the premise that every client proposal would begin with a blank piece of paper, and we have never duplicated an itinerary”, says director Sarah Farag. “Due to our longevity in the market, we have extraordinary loyalty from our suppliers, guaranteeing that our clients receive the most favoured guest status with the best rooms, upgrades when available, and often dedicated Southern Crossings specialist amenities.”
“The first thing we ask ourselves with any new client is what can we do that they aren’t expecting”, says Jacqui Spice, Founder of Touch of Spice, a company specialising in organising extra special experiences. “One of the key components for us is really getting to know someone so we try and ask the right questions that will give us a clear understanding of a client’s perfect trip might be.” One way Spice does is this by assigning a personal curator who looks after a client from the point of enquiry to the end of their stay. “Our curators make the impossible happen – whether that’s introducing them to like-minded Kiwis over an intimate dinner, or sourcing a professional ping-pong athlete to practise with them daily so they can perfect their serve.”
It’s this level of service that makes the best tour operators stand out. “People book with us because we promise to offer a service and that’s something that the internet can’t do”, explains Rob Young, Managing Director of Exclusive Travel Company. “Operators often talk about offering exclusive experiences, but realistically, with a few exceptions, these experiences aren’t genuinely exclusive. If someone wants that experience and is prepared to pay, then it’s rarely exclusive. What does makes us different is what makes each business different: our people, attitude, our way of doing things, and especially our understanding of the type of clients we look after.” He also cites “really listening to what’s being asked for, rather than offering cookie-cutter solutions” as a key component to success.
For Marketing and Operations Manager Shannon Walker at Over The Top, a helicopter sightseeing company providing flights over top spots such as the fjorlands and Milford Sound, the work they do “isn’t so much about being a helicopter line as an entertainment business. “We try and gather as much information in advance so that if we know there is a keen golfer, we’ll take a golf club and some biodegradable golf balls [so our client can] tee off on top of a glacier.” Rather than simply outsourcing elements such as guided hiking or fishing, the company works in partnership with other operators to guarantee consistency. As Farag concludes, “in a country like New Zealand that only has 4.7 million people, it really is about who you know that can open doors and make the unexpected happen.”
London-based freelance journalist Emma Love specialises in writing about interiors, design and travel for titles such as Elle Decoration and Condé Nast Traveller, where she is a contributing editor. She also writes for publications such as the Financial Times and the Guardian.