One common saying that I have always disliked intensely is “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. Tell that to a motorcyclist who has been collected by a truck and faces years of rehabilitation, or to a motorcycle tour operator whose business has evaporated due to COVID-19. It just isn’t that easy.
But even if it isn’t easy, it is also not impossible as South Pacific Motorcycle Tours in Christchurch, New Zealand, has demonstrated.
I first had dealings with South Pacific several years ago when owners Carole and Mike had one employee, half a dozen bikes and a marmalade cat for an office manager. They built the firm into a substantial business with a large pool of motorcycles, catering to international clients who would book two years or more in advance for their motorcycle trip of a lifetime. Since COVID-19 stopped all international travel, they’ve had to diversify to survive.
“We sought business advice as most businesses did but were advised to close down,” says Carole. “Not the advice we wanted to hear and not an option for a family business with clients still booked for the next few years!” Another suggestion was to “pivot to domestic tourism”, but most Kiwis who have a motorcycle license already own their own bike, so that wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Carole and Mike put their heads together with their operations manager, daughter Kim, and decided to play to their strengths.
“With a large fleet of motorcycles and ongoing costs such as registration, insurance, certificates of fitness, lease payments and all the rest to keep these beasts on the road, something needed to be done to be able to retain these costly assets as well as not letting the business sink into oblivion.
“Making use of our on-site fully equipped workshop and fully qualified mechanic aka David ‘The Road Commander’ we now offer quality motorcycle servicing and repairs locally to North Canterbury and Christchurch,” says Kim. “We have also partnered with the Aotearoa Women Motorcyclists Association to run basic maintenance skills workshops for their members. If these are successful, we will extend these events for the public.
“We’re also advertising superior motorcycle rentals at heavily discounted rates for New Zealand residents supported by sporadic deals for locals wanting to try riding something different. We now allow ‘Day Rentals’ so riders who are taking their Full Motorcycle Test can hire a LAMs (Learner Approved Motorcycle) easily to take their test on. As well as bikers who just want to try a motorcycle before they buy one at the shops. For Australians, we’re offering ‘Mates’ Rates’ for 2021.”
Despite the absence of international travelers, tours still have potential for SPMT. One way to leverage their knowledge and experience was to partner with a car company to provide New Zealand sports car tours, replicating their motorcycle tours, just with a sports car instead.
Even the two annual fully guided tours which now have no international clients to fill them have yielded success with their transformation into one Special Edition 9-Day tour incorporating the Burt Munro Motorcycle Challenge in February 2021 and run just for locals and possibly for Australians if the ‘travel bubble’ between the two countries comes into existence. The Challenge is focused around Burt Munro’s fame and is held every year in Invercargill, the motorcycling mecca of New Zealand. SPMT has made the cost remarkably affordable.
SPMT created a new option to ‘BYOB’ – Bring Your Own Bike, so Kiwis could still join the tour and experience all the fun of the group on their own motorcycle. The tour includes accommodation, tickets to all races, a great South Island tour and exclusive extras, like a meet and greet with John Munro, Burt’s son. No matter where you live in the world, you might like to think about taking this tour when the world opens up again. It’s an unforgettable experience.
At a smaller and more local level, SPMT worked with Christchurch City Council as part of the Ride Forever, Kickstart “Have a Go”’ Motorcycle event in October and gave away a two day rental to a lucky winner on the day. Nationally, they are active members of the Tourism Industry Aotearoa who are including SPMT’s story as part of the #TourismChampions campaign. They are also featuring it as an example at this year’s Tourism Summit in Wellington.
So while that marmalade cat has long gone to Cat Heaven, Carole, Mike and Kim continue to develop brand new business ideas that will allow them to make it through the border closures and keep current international and future clients on board so they can support the New Zealand economy with much-needed tourism dollars.
If you are planning a trip to NZ when the borders open, get in touch with South Pacific Motorcycle Tours.