Ralph Davies is not someone to sit on his hands.
When New Zealand’s borders closed to everyone but citizens and the country went into lockdown, the Headfirst Travel co-owner and his business partner Evan Bloomfield quickly changed their business model from driving around cruise ship passengers to offering a delivery service – ToMyDoor.
ToMyDoor was set up as a personalised shopping service for those in lockdown or self-isolation, or for those who did not want to leave home to go to the supermarket or pharmacy.
The company had vehicles and police-cleared drivers who knew the local areas, and were well suited to doing deliveries, Mr Davies said.
“It puts a point of difference to an Uber Eats model where it’s just a delivery. We do have a bit more local knowledge,” he said.
In recent years, Mr Davies had been expanding Headfirst Travel’s operations by bringing cruise ship passengers to Oamaru, which had proved popular, he said.
“We had a full cruise ship schedule one day and it was all gone the next,” he said.
“The brutal reality of being in the middle of tourist season to having no customers is very sobering.
“On the positive side, it was fortunate we got to March 15, not February 15 – and I’m pretty sure most operators would say the same.”
The key to operating a tourist business at this time was to be proactive, Mr Davies said.
“There will be some great stuff that comes out of this. I’m sure the resilient nature of Kiwis will bring out some brilliant ideas and concepts.
“If there is any one country that is going to reflect well out of this, it is going to be New Zealand.”
However, it was not the time for large-scale investments, he said.
“You have to be pretty realistic and conservative – if you start building your business on the box, I’m going to have a great idea and it’s going to blow the world apart’, you are doomed to fail, because those things aren’t guaranteed.
“I’ve been in this game for 25 years and there have always been cycles.
bounce back, but there is definitely going to be a longer lag than anything else.”
The lack of international travel presented an opportunity to promote domestic tourism, he said.
“It’s a matter of having your sales pitch right, to the New Zealand public.
“There are definitely opportunities and we are already looking at those.”
ToMyDoor covers Oamaru and other areas Headfirst Travel operated in before lockdown.