Wild Earth Travel

Smooth successful sailing for destination-focused cruise company

Kiwi travellers are increasingly taking to the high seas, and one Christchurch firm is riding the swell.

Wild Earth Travel is a wholesaler and retailer of cruises – with a difference. Managing director Aaron Russ says the firm specialises in the smaller cruise market, with most of its voyages for 50 to 150 passengers.

Because of their size, “the voyages are more inclusive and more intimate,” he says. “They’re more destination-focused. Our clients aren’t coming along for some ritzy dance show. It’s about the place we’re taking them to.”

That’s not to say clients can’t travel in style if they wish to. The 180 ships on the firm’s books range in comfort level from luxurious to “Kiwi bach”, Aaron says. “Our premise is matching people with the product.”

The firm currently has 1800 different cruise itineraries on sale, including a luxury African river safari and a journey into the ‘Realm of the Polar Bear’ in the Arctic. “We like to say we offer unusual destinations, or the usual destinations done differently.”

The global cruise industry is enjoying strong growth and New Zealand is keeping pace. Cruise bookings by New Zealanders over the past decade have grown by an average of 12.5 percent each year. The number of cruise passengers visiting New Zealand has doubled in the past five years.

While the big cruise ships dominate the headlines, the smaller ship operators are also cashing in as awareness of their offering grows, he says. “We are seeing more and more big ships coming through, and a percentage of people on those ships are really enjoying themselves but wanting something more personal. That’s where we get great growth.”

That increased demand is spurring new investment by ship operators, he says. “We’re seeing quite a large number of new ships coming into the market, which for us means an increased availability of product and innovation in accommodation options for clients.”

Wild Earth Travel is following a similar growth trajectory – with annual turnover increasing at least 30 percent year on year since it began operating in 2010. Aaron, who spent childhood holidays cruising around New Zealand, Antarctica and the Subantarctic Islands, worked for a decade as an expedition leader for many of the cruise operators his company now represents. He established the firm after noticing many operators did not have a presence in Australia or New Zealand.

What began as a one-man band is now a firm with five full-time staff based in Christchurch, and four part-time sales representatives spread across Wellington, Auckland and Australia.

The firm sees potential for growth in Australia and scope to penetrate further into the New Zealand market, Aaron says.

Moore Stephens Markhams Christchurch has been invaluable as a business advisor, and director Paul Rickerby has a deep understanding of the firm’s goals and its challenges, which include working with multiple currencies and variable exchange rates, Aaron says. “We sell in five or six currencies but payments are made in Australian or New Zealand dollars. They’ve really clarified how we deal with that.

“We’re having discussions with them as we grow in Australia. In terms of our financial structure, they are making sure that what we are doing as a New Zealand business working in Australia is best practice and future-proofed – so we aren’t going to be blindsided down the track.”

That technical and strategic support frees Aaron up to focus on selling cruises – and sampling them. He aims to be on the ships for a couple of months each year, building his product knowledge. On his most recent voyage he was expedition leader on a cruise around the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

Job satisfaction is high, Aaron says. “Our clients, many of whom are seasoned travellers, are seeking unique travel experiences and they are drawn to our hand-picked selection of quality cruise operators and our team’s expertise.  We send our clients off on the trip of a lifetime and they come back totally blown away.”


Published summer 2016

Moore Stephens Markhams client Wild Earth Travel

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