2015 a 'dream run' for Kiwi tour company
Business owner Ryan Sanders started his tour company with a passion for travel and entrepreneurial drive, but no tourism or business experience.
Nine years later, his company Haka Tours is the winner of multiple awards and Sanders is recognised as one of the country's top young entrepreneurs.
Haka Tours offers customisable adventure tours around New Zealand and upmarket backpackers accommodation.
This year's accolades ranged from the coveted Golden Backpack award for best accommodation to two national titles at the Tourism Industry Awards.
In August Haka Tours received a $50,000 Westpac growth grant that came with a free trip to Fiji to attend the first Nurture Change business retreat, a five-day event designed for business owners to learn, connect and get inspired.
"The last six months have been amazing, a dream run," Sanders said.
Sanders left New Zealand in 2000 straight after finishing university to play rugby for the Scottish premiership on a semi-professional contract.
But multiple achilles injuries ended his rugby career and he moved into human resources at the Royal Bank of Scotland.
A lack of passion for his work and little autonomy pushed Sanders to start writing his first business plan in 2006.
"I'm an avid traveller, I've travelled to over 50 countries and I'm really passionate about New Zealand. I love adventure-based activities and snowboarding so it made sense for me to create a tour company," he said.
Six months of planning produced a 120-page business plan that promptly went out the window once Sanders started testing the company in the market.
He originally offered tours only during the three-month British university and school break period.
"But the first 10 enquiries we had were from people looking to travel outside of that date. Quickly from day one we went from a business that was just going to be testing over the short time period to offering tours year-round."
The company also stumbled over a $100,000 setback when its first accountant mistakenly zero-rated some payments, resulting in a huge bill owed to Inland Revenue.
Sanders chose to disclose the amount owing and eventually paid that money back.
"It really dampened down some of the growth we were planning to do over those years."
The last three years have been all about growth, with staff numbers increasing from a dozen to 60 and a new backpackers lodge opening in Taupo at the start of December.
Sanders said he expected 250 per cent growth in tours offered in the next few years as well as another five new lodges in key locations around the country: the Coromandel, Wellington, Wanaka, Kaikoura and Nelson.
Three months ago the company launched educational tours where they run cultural, sporting and educational tours to international schools and universities.