On your bike, the Central Otago ‘Bold’ Rush

Date: 4th October 2011

Next year is the 150th anniversary of the discovery of gold in Central Otago. While the gold has long gone, the region now has a more sustainable resource in the thousands of tourists drawn to it by its dramatic scenery and reputation as the country’s action holiday capital. It offers a cycling experience on the Otago Rail Trail between Middlemarch and Clyde, including bikes, accessories, accommodation, off trail activities and secure vehicle storage. The story is uplifting in a tough economic climate.

From humble beginnings out the back of a cycle shop Neville and his then business partner Ritchie Bailey set up with 10 bikes and one van and now operate 550 bikes, three 21 seater buses, 3 mini vans and shuttle trailers, and employ 30 staff during peak season.

When Ritchie retired in 2007 Neville sold down 40% of the business to three local business people with expertise to enhance business development and created a formal board of directors.

Neville has a refreshing attitude to financing a rapidly expanding business. Being debt adverse, he pumped profits back in to fund expansion, a decision that paid off when business got tougher during the recession. He admits that at the start planning was ‘seat of the pants’ stuff but, as the business grew formal planning has become an integral feature in their success.

Staff are fundamental to success and Trail Journeys draws on the wealth of passionate semi-retired people who are happy to work part of the year. The company ensures they are an employer of choice, generously rewarding employees, incentivising them when annual objectives are met and upskilling them with both technical and personal development courses.

Up until two years ago 97% of Trail Journeys’ customers were Kiwis. This dropped to 85% on the back of a marketing plan targeting Australians and focused on attendance at the ‘Round the Bays’ cycle event in Melbourne. The trail journey attracts corporates, sports teams (e.g. the Silver Ferns), and secondary schools for team building and personal development.

Key operational decisions Neville made to enhance business performance:

§ Upgrading the Clyde rail head to improve servicing and storage of bikes, and provide workshop, office and reception facilities. Leasing and refurbishing the old garage at Middlemarch to provide bike storage and customer amenities

§ Installing a web based management system to handle itineraries, accommodation and operations

§ Designing with Avanti specific bikes that are robust and comfortable

§ Purchasing Catch-a-bus in 2009 to enhance transport to the trail from Dunedin

§ Encouraging other tourist operators to develop complementary services

The Trail Journeys story is inspirational – an iconic Kiwi business in a truly beautiful part of this magnificent country.

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