Kiwi business Rotorua Canopy Tours has seen a lot of success over the years, but it didn’t begin that way. It all started with a dream to create an outstanding visitor experience. The zipline in Rotorua had a lot of up and downs and challenges thrown in along the way. But, with the right vision, grew from bribing their first customers, to being New Zealand’s most award winning and sought after experience. Hear all about how this kiwi company went from 0 the hero in just 7 years.
How it all started
A young kiwi guy, James Fitzgerald, had a bold vision to create a visitor experience that was so removed from the real world, that it would become the most premium and sought-after experience in all of New Zealand. He had seen a lot of ziplines emerging overseas and thought this was a great opportunity. He wanted to create an experience that would combine adventure and education to showcase our native forest and the magic of our natural environment. He also found someone to share his dream, university mate Andrew Blackford, who happened to be an engineer - perfect for designing and building an epic zipline tour.
Photo: Rotorua Canopy Tours founder James, 22m high above the forest floor on the Original Canopy Tour
Conservation is key
From the beginning James and Andrew knew there was a bigger problem in the forest they had found for their zipline in Rotorua. The forest appeared beautiful but there was a total rat and possum infestation that was destroying the forest and killing native animals.
James had a vision to restore the area and turn it into New Zealand’s most loved forest. He wanted to hear the bird song ringing loud through the trees. He made a promise to restore the reserve to see the canopy flourish once again, as it did before humans arrived. They made a commitment to do the best for the environment and conservation has been a central part to our experience ever since.
Photo: Guides doing some conservation work in the early days of Rotorua Canopy Tours opening
The first customers
In 2012, the zipline in Rotorua opened and Charlotte and John from England were the first ever paying customers. James found them brewing soup in their campervan at the Rotorua Lakefront. He knocked on their window and didn't let them go until they agreed to come experience the zipline eco tour – he even bribed them with free pizza! At first customers proved hard to come by. It was a hard slog knocking on campervan doors and talking up this crazy adventure that no one had ever heard of!
Slowly they gained momentum. Customers were talking about this awesome zipline tour and the media began to hear of this amazing experience that was saving the native forest. Rotorua Canopy Tours was getting some fantastic customer reviews and the zipline in Rotorua started taking off!
Photo: Customers were hard to come by but those who went on tour were giving the experience rave reviews
The Canopy team
The small team of 4 began to grow, from 12 to 25 to 60. Creating an amazing team culture with a 'better never stops' attitude is a central part of what Rotorua Canopy Tours is all about. They wanted to create a workplace that was the best in New Zealand. The guides are a huge part of the adventures and having an all kiwi professional guiding crew that would delight and inspire customers was a must. All guides are highly trained to support every customer right through their journey and teach guests amazing things about the incredible natural environment. So many guests comment about how the guides make them smile and make their experience on this zipline in Rotorua even more special.
Photo: The Rotorua Canopy Tours team grew and grew and they created an awesome culture
Rotorua Canopy Tours was becoming known as one of the best experiences in New Zealand. In 2016 a lot of the hard work was recognised - this zipline in Rotorua won some pretty big awards! Rotorua Canopy Tours took out the tourism industry’s top prize at the Air New Zealand Tourism Awards. They received the Supreme Award, Sustainability Award and Visitor Experience Award. The judges said Rotorua Canopy Tours has demonstrated incredible progress. Visitor numbers have been growing rapidly year on year and outstanding environmental outcomes have been achieved as a result of passion, innovation and perseverance.
Photo: The Rotorua Canopy Tours team getting a few good selfies with the then Prime Minister, Rt Hon John Key.
In the same year at the Westpac Rotorua Business Awards, they also won the awards for Business of the Year, Attractions Business Award and the Attractions Business Award. The judges there said “they couldn’t fault the company’s dedication to providing a 100% world class visitor experience.”
Continuing on in 2017 they won the Tourism Export Council Operator of the Year award. This was judged by peers in the industry, based on innovation, marketing, business operation, communications, accessibility and industry relationships.
Photo:The Rotorua Canopy Tours team about to head out and celebrate taking out some amazing awards
Customers were coming back
The Original Canopy Tour was a huge success. Customers were coming back to do the zipline in Rotorua over and over, like Sam an Australian electrician who has been on tour SEVEN times. They continued to get rave reviews, even from some of the most recognised people in the industry.
Former Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon recognised Rotorua Canopy Tours as a quality experience and a great innovation which is the future of tourism.
Chris Roberts, Chief Executive of Tourism Industry Aotearoa said “Rotorua Canopy Tours is a complete product that ticks all the boxes. At the heart of its success is an exceptional visitor experience that has raised the bar of personalisation, authenticity and fun.”
Photo: Rotorua Canopy Tours customer Sam love the experience so much he has been on tour 7 times
But they couldn’t stop there
Rotorua Canopy Tours customers were wanting more. So in 2018 they opened the best zipline in New Zealand – the Ultimate Canopy Tour! Guests absolutely loved the step up in adventure of the Ultimate Canopy Tour and in 2019 the awards continued to roll in.
Rotorua Canopy Tours was named in Trip Advisors ‘Top 10 South Pacific’ list after becoming a traveller favourite receiving over 1700 amazing reviews. They were also among the seven winners of the inaugural 100% Pure New Zealand Experience Awards held by Qualmark. Rotorua Canopy Tours received the award by demonstrating excellence in manaakitanga (hospitality) and tiaki (duty of care for people and place).
Photo: The controlled descent on the Ultimate Canopy Tour is a customer favourite
The best experience in New Zealand
In just seven years this zipline in Rotorua went from struggling to get customers on tour, to earning a reputation as the best experience in New Zealand. Guided by James' vision to deliver an exceptional customer experience and do the best for the environment they operate in, they designed a tour for kiwis to enjoy a world class experience right on their back door step. While things have changed a lot over the years as they have grown, their commitment to customer service and conservation has remained through out.
Rotorua Canopy Tours can be incredibly proud of the achievements they have worked hard to receive and their passionate team who have become like a family. This amazing zipline in Rotorua has won the hearts and minds of New Zealanders to be an experience that should be on every kiwi bucket list.
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